making copies

on 10.10.10, the track "counterfeit" was released online in six different forms. for streaming or free download from the dream into dust website, as well as streaming (and shareable) on soundcloud. the files have now been removed

the web mix is basically the original, although slightly shorter and lower quality than the forthcoming album version. this is the song i've referred to on this blog several times as being made of dozens of different parts. almost nothing in this song is "real". everything is made up of samples of toy instruments, chopped up and overprocessed loops, analog and digital synths, a circuit bent plastic guitar, and a bass guitar recorded onto a cheap boombox and then severely stretched to fit the song. the vocal was shouted into a handheld mic plugged straight into the mixing board and later tweaked by bryin.

the deviation mix came out of a desire to feature certain instruments and to make it more of a crazy drum and bass track. bryin did his own version, which turned out a bit breakcore/speedcore because of the tempo (and so was named the breakneck mix).

DJ angztek fired up his gear as angztek industries and chopped up sounds from the song and constructed a pounding dance beat around them.

shannon fields of stars like fleas, the silent league, and family dynamics used his catch-all moniker prequel for this cold wave style vintage mix. lots of original instruments added for authentic feel. this is unlike anything he's known for previously.

leech of theologian (formerly of navicon torture technologies and one of the most collaborative and prolific artists i know who retains high quality) utterly destroyed the song. i mean that in a good way. pitched down, distorted pieces from the original mixed with key rhythmic elements.

finally, a no-budget video was shot using the motion picture setting on a still camera and effected to look like the whole thing has been photocopied. an HD version is available on youtube.

online digital releases are far from ideal. but this song and video are a comment on certain aspects of the world we find ourselves in, and that makes this type of dissemination fitting in this case. there will definitely be more sharing of snippets and using video in the future, as well as remixes.

the good part's just getting started.


i sing the body electric

being a vocalist is a pain at times. there are any number of activities or dietary choices that can end up affecting the quality of your voice in both the short and long-term. this can put a damper on the rest of life, especially when you're supposed to be recording final takes, or even run-throughs that you hope might end up being usable. normal and enjoyable things become potential hazards to productivity. each one becomes a choice; to pass it up and have a better singing voice the next day, or indulge and face 24 hours or more of vocal uselessness.

sometimes it's not even a choice. i'm grateful for the smoking ban in NYC clubs and restaurants, but i can't control private areas i may be in. then there's cookouts with family or friends. excusing or repositioning myself in any of these situations can be awkward. no one wants to be a killjoy, especially for such an esoteric, artistic, and wimpy-sounding reason.

at times i envy my musical partner bryin, whose baritone seems to gain an appropriately raspy edge from smoking. for material like our dark hank williams covers, it really seems to work. however, when singing in a higher register, such as mine, it only causes harm. add to that the fact that as much as i've been complimented on my "pretty" voice, i have less interest in using it these days - and harsher tones tax vocal cords more.

singing can, however, be its own great reward. even when not recording or in front of an audience, there's a joy and power that comes from feeling your body resonate with the notes. certain tones, melodies, moments of vibrato feel good both physically and mentally. not to mention those times when you let out a scream straight from the gut.


low end theories

i love bass. any playback system that can't adequately reproduce some kind of bass is, to me, a piece of crap. music devolving into ringtones made for tinny phone and computer speakers distresses me. i don't believe everyone needs a club or concert system to enjoy music, but some kind of happy medium should be the standard. unfortunately, that's not in my control. but our recording quality is.

in the past, my love of bass has cost me. more bass often means less volume (at least, the way we hear volume). it also means more sonic confusion. you can't have downtuned samples, deep kick drums, sludgy bass guitar, and rumbling sound effects all at once. at least, not without compromises.

so much of the time spent working on this album, as i've said before, has been involved in tackling engineering issues. a big one has been dealing with bass. several songs have multiple bass guitars and bass synths, as well as slightly different kick drums. then there's trying to even out the volume on bass parts that sweep up high on the neck (louder) as well as play low (quieter), and trying to get the bottom notes of a 5-string bass or a rumbling explosion to resonate without destroying speakers. and of course making all these things sound good and loud at the same time.

learning different techniques to make sense of all the murk has been illuminating and time-consuming. it's also not an exact science, at least not at my level of knowledge. just when i think "that kick drum's solved the issue, it punches straight through the bass now", i realize "it's tuned way too high, it's like a toy electronic drum", and it has to be replaced.

another danger is in focusing too much on the bass, consequently making the music bottom-heavy. pushing a frequency ends up pushing volume, so that has to be compensated for.

in the end, i have to believe it's worth it, since even unmastered versions of the new songs sonically blow away anything we've released so far. one song has been previewed at a club, and held its own next to commercially released tracks. which, from a recording/engineering standpoint, is all you can hope for.


i'll have nothing, thanks

sometimes creating is knowing when to leave something out. after multiple sessions with both electric and acoustic guitars for a new song, i found myself more frustrated than ever. nothing i played truly added anything to the music except more sounds filling up space. in addition, the organic quality of guitar and the prettiness of the acoustic in particular, took away from the cold, stark feeling the song was supposed to have.

and then the obvious hit me: no guitar was needed.

it's a strange thing to think of myself as being one thing, such as a guitarist. but since it's what i play in the band live, i'd begun to put myself in that box. if there was no guitar, what would i do? i wasn't thinking that consciously, but it must have been affecting my insistence on trying to force a part for an instrument that didn't need to be there.

the other issue one faces as a producer is the overall album feel and flow. the state of things towards the end of an album's recording sessions is different from the beginning. you start seeing the connections between tracks and recurring patterns. not just the ones added intentionally, but also by accident, and by influence.

the longer this album has taken, the more frustrated i've become. that frustration leads to a desire for harder, angrier music. that, combined with attempting to make sure the sound isn't all over the map, has led to changes in arrangement and mixing.

for example, "secondhand daylight" was initially written, recorded, and even performed live with acoustic guitar as the main instrument. it's ended up with no acoustic guitar, and sparse and ethereal electrics added. synths were mixed louder, and vintage beat boxes replaced the acoustic drum sounds i originally used. finally, scott's excellent viola sample solo was pulled out of a section that needed to feature bryin's spaced-out noise guitar. that same section was based on a huge effected drum machine loop which itself was long ago removed, and ended up being the intro to a different song.

bryin himself can sometimes be the foil that leads to these kinds of decisions. he can affect a song without touching a piece of gear by asking "what are you trying to do?" or "why do it that way?"

the answers to these questions lead to better solutions than simply banging my head against a wall. especially if the wall isn't even mic'ed.