Posts Tagged ‘psychedelic music’

Grappling with song

March 14, 2007

No matter how deep i get into sound and my appreciation for obscure and experimental kinds of “music” or “sound-art”, I never lose my love for all of the more accessible genres like rock, folk, psych, metal, etc. All these things are related of course, in that they are all sound. The differences are matters of intent, organization (or lack thereof), content, and probably a bunch of other things I can’t think of right now. One of the problems I consistently have with people into far flung forms of music, is when they abanodon the more accessible or “normal” forms of music as if they have moved on to higher ground. Of course here we get into ideology and value systems which I don’t really want to get into in depth. At least partially because I’m not sure I really have a solidified position on the subject, or if I should. What I do know is that I enjoy a CCR tune just as much as a piece by Steve Reich (albiet in slightly different ways).

There is always part of me, no matter how out my tastes get that wants to write songs and record them and make a record to give to friends or whatever. So I’m often sitting around playing little half written songs on the guitar and sort of slowly developing them over time. I don’t generally record these things beacuse I know that if I get pulled in to recording them, they will eat me alive. I’ll inevitably want to put my whole crappy instrument orchestra on there and obsess over the mix, arrangement and lyrics until I’m finally sick of the song and it goes on the scrap heap with all the others. Occasionally though I’m able to settle down and just bang something out without putting too much pressure on it, just to be able to hear it with some added parts playing along.

This brings us to todays piece. I play little riffs like this all the time. they sort of get stuck in my head and I have to sit down and play them or they will drive me mad. I decided to keep this dead simple, short and sweet with couple of little changes. Of course after I played it back and heard all of the overtones more clearly, I decided I had to try and play some of the melodies (in the overtones) I was hearing on chord organ and then that lead me, once finished, to add another guitar part and tamborine to round it out. I probably would have played bass on it too if I had a working one, but I don’t.

When I was done I played it for my wife, who really liked it (always a good sign) but asked if I was going to do lyrics. My answer was “probably not”. Lyrics make it a song and making it a song would mean I would get all crazy and probably run out of steam in the manner I stated above. I’d like to get to that point one day, but I never want to write all of the crappy lyrics that I know I have to write before I write good ones and orchestration is something I just get too obsessed with. This made me feel go though, so maybe I’ll give it another try soon enough. For now however, I hope you enjoy this simple non-song. 🙂

Take it easy like a river


Fun with sound manipulation and the freedom of chance.

March 11, 2007

Mary Did you Know?

My wife and I have a sort of tradition of going to her parent’s house on christmas for a big christmas meal and time with the extended family.

My wife’s extended family is really two families, one from Staten Island and the other Chicago, that have had a couple of marriages between them. One of which is my sister in law from Staten Island who now lives in Chicago with her husband.

It is not every year that the Chicago family can make it, so when they can the occasion is even more joyous to the family and there is generally a bit more to-do and a good bit of chaos.

One thing that always comes with my sister in law and her husband is singing. They love to sing… they even love to sing badly! They don’t care what it sounds like as long as singing is going on.

This year we sang the twelve days of chistmas as is tradition when they are in town, and made the last minute addition of a solo rendition of the CCM gem, “Mary did you know?” to be performed by my brother in law.

I cannot stand this song. It is both sonically offensive and lyrically banal. It is one of those songs certain christian people love because it makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, but it has no real meaning, lesson or message to get in the way.

Of course I do love my in laws, so i kept my loathing contained. I did however plan to video record it so that once I was back home I could mangle the sound somehow into something either redeeming or horrible.

I’m not exactly sure why that makes me feel better, but It does. It might just be the challenge of it. I’m not sure.

Mary Did You Know (Warning, not for the faint of heart)

The chance transformation

When I was back home and had the time, I didn’t really know what I was going to do with this audio I had collected. It was as bad as any random person singing a song they love at the top of their lungs. I had no idea how I was going to make that interesting, even to me. However, eventually, a thought came… what if I re-organize it using chance?

Recently I have been reading a book about the life, work, and writings of John Cage called “John Cage [Documentary Monographs in modern art]” by Richard Kostelanetz.

I have grown to be fascinated by Cage in the past year or so after having on a whim, listened to his conversations with Morton Feldman, on ubuweb.

The concept of the use of chance opperations in the “composition” of music is one particular prong of that fascination.

I have always liked the occurance of a moment where in chance two sounds or flavors or what-have-you meet in accidental harmony. I always get a little leap of excitement. Often more so than when things are very predictably composed.

However, where Cage sees the role of the “A-rtist” being thankfully deminished down to commoness, I see the possibility for the inclusion of acts of nature, and alternate methods of decison making.

I have not, as Cage may argue, separated myself from my intent by choosing randomness. I have CHOSEN randomness and it IS my intent.

Where in the past I may have – at a loss, as I was here – manually and “randomly” cut apart the track and lopped it back together. Hoping, of course, to hear something magical upon playback. This time I decided to, like Cage did, set up a real system that I would have to adhere strictly to, in order to acheive randomness, or at least the appearance of it.

I decided to take what I figured would be the most musical parts of the song, the vowel parts, and separate them into individual pieces.

Then, I numbered them all (1-217) and created a corresponding sheet of written numbers, which was cut up, put in a bowl and drawn from.

sound numbers

The order of the numbers coming out of the bowl, was the order in which they were placed in the track.

sound numbers scrambled

This process satisfied me initially, but I found myself wanting to take a step further. So, I next selected each bit of newly re-ordered sound and flipped a coin. If the coin landed heads, it stayed as it was. if it landed tales it was reversed.

When I was finally finished (the entire process took nearly 3 hours) I listened.

While the immediate resultant sequence of sounds was not entirely earth shattering, it was very inspiring. While what came out, sounded an awful lot like what went in, there were a few moments of brilliance. It was really cool to hear melodies emerge that did not exist anywhere in the original.

I was also pleasantly surprised at some of what was made of the ambient sounds in the room, as they were drug through the process. Some very interesting textures and events made it into the cut-up version.

What is far more interesting though, is that through all that, a discernable instance or the words “Mary Did You Know” actually made it into the cut-up!

Mary Did You Know (Cut up)

Cut-up, now what?

Though the new cut-up version was certainly more interesting than the original version, it was nothing I would ever really choose to listen to more than once or twice for novelty. I realized that what I really wanted was to make it a (somewhat) listenable piece of music.

The process that insued took hours. stretching, compressing, cutting away, adding back, piling on effects, etc. There was no system here, I merely worked the sound like clay… pressing and molding away, with no particular adgenda, other than to be pleased with the result. I am pleased. It is a very strange piece, very dark, but i have found myself listening to it over and over and that to me is a very good sign.

Mary Did You Know (You’re Dead)?

I did realize, through all of this, another very way to use chance. At a few points in ordering my “composition”, I found myself at a place where I had to make a choice that was somewhat important, but also kind of subjective and as such arbitrary. It occurred to me, at that these places, chance could be used to solve the problem.

What is great about that is that it throws a wrench into our human tendancy to build habbit. You come to a similar crossroads a couple times and you find tyourself always picking the same road until, before you know it, it becomes subconcious. This technique helps to avoid that.

I could see this technique being employed in such a way as would keep an artist or maker on their toes. Chance might give them a difficult task, one THEY would never choose. But they will solve it in THEIR way and therefore grow in experience instead of building well defined boundaries. I even thought of possibly numbering all of my instruments and when I came up with an idea, drawing numbers to see what instrument or group thereof would be responsible for working it out.

Maybe next time.

Harmonic Drone Study; Overtones as Generative Music

March 1, 2007

Dancing Moon

I have been a fan of drones for a long time. There is something about the fixedness of certain aspects of the drone that allow your mind to focus on other parts that shift subtly in the background.

In a way some drones (perhaps this one) could be called generative music. This is because while the part of the music that you play can be quite fixed, it is in itself a simple system that produces an output that is beyond your control. I am talking now about overtones.

When you play one chord or a grouping of notes repeatedly in a space or with an acoustic instrument, you are in effect setting up a system upon which chance plays a part in creating music. This is the thing that always excites me about drones. Especially acoustic drones.

I stumbled upon a great group of notes for a drone on my acoustic guitar, while playing with the capo. I was messing with how i could differently tune the guitar, just by capoing only certain strings. After playing the drone to myself for a while I recorded a playing of it, lasting as long as felt nice.

Capo Placement and fretting:

The recording was then processed in protools with the addition of reverb, delay, and EQ. Basically all effects were leveraged to get the most oft of the overtones and I feel worked quite nicely.

Of course now part of me wants to bury this in a bevy of other sounds, but for now I will refrain and present just the drone to you as a completed study.

Dizzying Lights (Harmonic Drone No. 1)

To illustrate my point even further I am including an excerpt of a performance by Jack Rose form 2005. Here he employs this method to wonderous effect. (and does one of the punkest things i’ve seen someone do with an acousting guitar in recent years) the cascading melodies that spill from his guitar into the auditorium leave one searching for another player in the room, but alas there was just one.

Jack Rose scraping melodies

Rose employed a technique or scraping his guitar strings at the anti-node location with what sounds like a piece of metal. What starts as quite a faint sound — over the course of nearly 18 minutes and a few pitches — becomes quite loud and the resulting overtones interact beautifuly.

Jack Rose: Untitled – First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, 12/16/05

More four-track cassette looping

February 11, 2007

As had been my plan this weekend, I made a new loop cassette with the intent of once and for all figuring out if I could in fact use a four-track as a live looping compsition tool. I tried a Moebius loop this time, as it allows for greater length in the loop and i was interested to see the impact this could have on the overall outcome.

For some reason as my luck would be with tape lately, it behaved very strangely. Perhaps I used single sided tape, although i have no idea if that even exists, but it seemed to play for a bit, then go silent for a bit, off and on like that. I was frustrated even further with this, as the loop sounded really good and so the waste was even worse in my eyes. So I made another, this time a basic chandler loop, but in my typical fashion with added reels for greater tape length.

I also decided to build a punch-in footswitch, as the whole idea of the four-track looper as an improvisation tool hinges on it, the ability to start and stop recording without stopping tape playback, being essential. I made one out of a 3 pole, dual throw footswitch I had laying around, a battery and led (so i knew when it was on), a 1k resistor, and a bit of old mono cabling with a jack conveniently attached and housed it in an altoids tin (of course!). It is just the thing, and works very well, the indicator light, of course, being very useful as I tend to drift off mentally and forget what I am doing.

I tested this arrangement out as soon as I finished, and recorded the first loop here fairly quickly. I like the result, but of course my nice new loop is very crusty sounding for some reason. Not a bad effect, but one I wish I had some control over. I am impressed though, that the splice is damn near inaudible, oweing to me randomly using thin plasic packing tape to splice. The secret is, unlike most kinds of tape, it is thinner than the audio tape.

The second loop is now me attempting to use the controls on the four-track to switch tracks while the tape is rolling, and using only my footswitch to start and stop recording. This track is odd, because I had anticipated my newly recorded parts to tape over my old ones. instead i got this strange blend that you hear of the two. It even seems that my “sequential” recording of the tracks, utilizing my footswitch, actually laid the parts in sequence on the tape in a linear, horizontal fashion, instead of a vertical fashion. Meaning, instead of the four parts, going to four tracks, the went in order linearily, one after the other, and left the old loops tracks very much in place. I am stumped as to why this is, but I will continue to play with this system and I am confident that I will discover an answer at some point.

What I did discover is that the fourtrack cannot work in the way i had initially intended. The main issue is that it cannot play and record on the same track. This should be obvious, considering it only has a single playhead, but it is still a bit of a disapointment. Even with the punch-in footswitch set to not record, the track loops along silently. A shame. However, I quite enjoy this system for it’s quirks. It really is an interesting tool in it’s unpredictability.

If anyone who reads this knows of a fourtrack that will allow you to listen to the same track you are recording, let me know i’d love to get one that does.

Anyhow, til next time…. Enjoy!

Loop 1
Loop 2

Sorry, but I have been too busy to do a real update.

February 5, 2007

It’s true, usually saturday is my big day to sit down with some gear, come up with an idea and go for it. i tend to record and post in one fell swoop. This weekend however was just too complicated. I had dedicated myself to sitting down with the four track and figuring out how to improvise loops in real time and record it in a sort of stream of conciousness loop collage. well, it seems i better spend more time with the four track manual. It took me about ten minutes of fooling around before i could even get my input levels set right and figure out how to record to the right track. To make a long story short, i ran out of time with nothing to show for it besides some gained experience and a newfound respect for four track wizards everywhere. To get all DND on you… it’s a heavy sword to weild.

I am going to make a concerted effort though, this week, to get something out asap. Not just out of some weird responsibility to this blog, but also because I am hot under the collar to get this four track loop thing working efficiently. Thus far it is showing very exciting potential. To anyone who reads this PICK UP CHEAP FOUR TRACKS! You will not be sorry!

So as not to leave you high and dry this week, I present you with a video. Not that there is much to see here… more to hear. I only just recently started getting into Tony Conrad (i was busy okay?!?!) and WOW, I am really enjoying it. I love the overtones on this peice. It is like a naturally occuring symphony just below the surface. Enjoy!

I’ll be back with more sound experimentation soon!

Home made instrument piece from today.

January 28, 2007

I ended up with an extra free hour and a tune in my head, so I sat down and banged this out. I think it turned out with a very nice feeling.


This was done on an instrument that I built that I still have not given a name to. I was inspired to make it looking at cigar box guitars and other ethnic instruments of the world, especially the rudra veena with it’s “hollow” frets.

The Rudra Veena
Rudra Veena

I had just begun an attempt at building a cigar box guitar (my first attempt at acoustic instrument building) and had decided to try out some techniques on another instrument first before applying them to the cigar box guitar which I was already too fond of to risk ruining.



The result is a short instrument made from a note card box, with deep scalloped frets and two strings. One for drone and the other melody. The fretting is dulcimer style, with cut nails for frets. It has it’s idiosyncracies, but I love it. I mostly sit it on my lap with the resonator between my knees and pluck the strings while sliding one finder from fret to fret, but recently I recieved an egyptian fiddle as a gift and have been using it’s bow a lot on various things including this and really loving the sound.

This melody that came to me today was one i actually came up with a long time ago, but today it seemed perfect for this instrument. So I recorded the melody first then added some humming and then a bowed drone. I think it summed up what I felt for that melody nicely. Enjoy!

Rain made out of Sun

Slightly Apprehensive Mining Tunnel

January 28, 2007

Mining Tunnel

I recorded this in my bathroom. 2 mics, one from an old reel to reel and an sm57. both placed far from the instruments. Drone supplied kindly by an Hin Hon EK-900 keyboard. Guitar four notes and a droning string. Overdubbed more keyboard drone and some echoy noises. Big fun! Time is unfortunately short and getting shorter. Enjoy!

Slightly Apprehensive Mining Tunnel