fractured and screwed


A few weeks ago I found myself in an actual record store with an unexpected hour to kill, and I had a jolly time shopping for music the same way I shop for wine. I look at the label and take a chance. In this case, I ended up with a half-dozen CDs* (remember CDs? I’ve bought more vinyl over the last three years than I have compact discs).
One cover caught my eye that I ended up not buying? It was Nils Frahm’s CD “Screws.” I liked the cover and the description of the music — apparently Frahm, a pianist, had messed up his thumb pretty bad and was relegated to playing the piano with only nine of his ten fingers. The title of the album refers to the hardware in his thumb to help with the healing. However, a quick google of the album informed me that the entire thing is available for free on Frahm’s Soundcloud account. So I went that route. It’s some lovely music, and much more appreciated for the intimacy of the recording. One can hear him shift around on the piano bench as he plays, even. Having recently broken my hand and dealing with the limitations that this injury forced upon my own musical output, I appreciated this idea even more.

As a result, it was exciting when, a few weeks later, the Thursday night Disquiet Junto came along and I realized that it was a remix project for this Nils Frahm album. Frahm himself is hosting this particular project, and Marc Weidenbaum latched on to this for the 55th Junto project. The idea was as follows:

This week’s project involves a shared set of source material. The source audio is the free solo piano album ‘Screws’ by Nils Frahm.

Frahm, who’s based in Germany, posted the nine-track album of short solo works for free download while he was recuperating from busting one of his thumbs. He subsequently created a site to house all the remixed/reworked versions that admirers sent to him, as well as the videos and other responses that he received.

For this project you will take two of the source tracks — “Do” and “Re” — and create a new track from them, in the process creating a work for two pianos.

Source Audio: You can download the files as sets of MP3 or AIF audio:

You can only use those two Frahm tracks as audio source material for your track, and you cannot add anything other sounds, but you can transform the two Frahm tracks as you please. In the end, though, the sound of a piano should be evident.

I was away for the weekend with friends, in New Haven, so I decided to attempt this project using only the OP-1. I recorded large parts of the two pieces into the tape recorder on the OP-1 and quickly found this to be a much more difficult thing to do than I expected. I wanted to keep the piano-ness of the pieces to a large extent, so merely sampling a small part and sequencing it wasn’t going to work. So I began cutting sections and looping them in the tape machines. I got some interesting parts, but creating an entire work from this was going to make me a bit insane.
When I got back home and was with laptop, I dumped a lot of what I’d done into Ableton, and put it all together there. The results are a mix of straight Frahm, and my mechanical whirring from the OP-1 loops.

*The CDs I bought are as follows
Bob Dylan: The Basement Tapes. I can’t believe I bought a Bob Dylan album. I also found all the bootlegs related to the basement tapes and have them now as well. Great stuff.
Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News. So good. Califone led me to Ugly Casanova, led me to Modest Mouse.
Land Observations: Roman Roads IV-XI. Felt ambivalent about this after a few lessons. But I now realize it has affected my guitar-playing in a lot of ways. I’ve become a little obsessed with looping, which is a post in itself.
The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me. I burned out on Mrs. John Soda and Lali Puna back about five years ago. This is good, but it is a lot like those other Weilheim bands.
Fruit Bats: Spelled in Bones. I got it because Brian Deck of Califone produced some Fruits Bats. Apparently not this one, but I still like it.
Dntel: Something Always Goes Wrong / Early Works for Me If It Works for You. Highly recommended. I love Dntel and this early work is fascinating. It was sitting on my coffee table and my kid Wilson sees it and says “Oh cool, Jimmy Tamborello, can I borrow that?”

Someone Else's Remains

This is my fourth Disquiet Junto piece.
The project was to remix Marcus Fischer’s Nearly There, with tracks lent by Marcus. Most of the original sounds were created with an ebow on a lap harp, which in turn made for some nice source material, if maybe a little close in feel and timbre to the whistles and glass of the previous two weeks.
I created a four-track Ableton project, and almost randomly assigned these stems of Marcus’ to three of the tracks, and then found a couple of small rhythmic parts to assign to the fourth track. I used a Novation Launchpad to sort it all out, and quickly decided that I’d “perform” this the same way that last week’s project was performed. That is, set it up, hit “record,” mess with knobs (via the Op-1 which makes a sweet MIDI controller), and then hit stop. Whatever happens is what happens. The main difference from last week is that this project would be processed entirely via software. The software I used was Uhbik’s Tremolo and Reverb, and Audio Damage’s Automaton on the percussive sounds (which is the source of the glitchy bzz and hiccups you can hear throughout). The Op-1 was assigned to control the four mixer faders, and again, the launchpad launched the clips. As I mentioned last week, live stuff (not Live stuff) is new to me, and I’m interested in finding a good workflow that will allow and encourage me to play live somewhere, someday.

The track is thus:

The project raised some interesting questions for me, regarding the nature of a remix. I don’t have the headspace to explore this thoroughly right now, but I’ll see if I can get some more down before the end of the weekend. The basic idea is that there are three ways to go with a remix:

• Limiting the remix to the original tracks and sounds only. No matter what you do with the track, the use of the original sounds will capture the spirit of the original track in some way, whether intentional or not.

• Using sounds from anywhere, including the original stems or not, but paying attention to the composition of the original in order to stay true. Otherwise, what is it that makes it a remix? On some tracks, you could keep just one representative part, like a unique vocal, with everything else new and from elsewhere, and it’s still recognizable as a remix.

• The third seems to be not worrying about any of this, and just making whatever it is you want, where you happen to have been given some source material. If one is remixing a pop song, or almost any song with vocals, this still seems inherently destined to capture the spirit of the original in some way. But on a piece like Marcus’, the sounds are, to me, less than the composition. That is, many of the stems sound like outtakes from previous Juntos, to be honest, and could possibly have come from anywhere. I’m not sure it’s the individual sounds that make Marcus work what it is. Maybe it is, but it’s not what I take from it. It’s not like a particular guitar part, or a vocal styliing…

Again, just thinking out loud here. I’m curious about others’ feelings on this (and on the tracks I’ve been posting in general). Hit the comment button.

Another Time, Another Place

Several weeks ago I was asked by Marc Weidenbaum to take part in a remix project for Tablet Magazine, an online publication on Jewish art, life, and culture. The idea was to take Klezmer songs and remix them for Hanukkah. Originally he tried to get traditional public domain tunes, but when that proved too impossible, more recent songs were added to the mix. I was assigned a raucous number by The New Klezmer Trio entitled Thermoglyphics. I was curious by the choice, as my musical mind lies in a different place than this song goes, and since I work with a modular synth and a drum machine — a little less emotive than the great clarinet of Ben Goldberg in Thermoglyphics — I held my head in my hands for several minutes after taking a listen.
Going back a ways, I love Klezmer. Love. Klezmer. I took up the accordion back in 1999 specifically because I’m the gentile guy over there listening to Dave Tarras and the Klezmatics. If I’d had my wits about me and wasn’t so enthralled with robotic synthesizer noises right now, I might have picked out the melody on my accordion and messed with that as sampled audio. Alas, I instead programmed it all by ear using a sequencer in Ableton Live and making sounds with the synth (details below, if you’re into that sort of thing). I spent a few days climbing up the wrong tree, thinking could make things at sound at least somewhat organic. But it was one morning while walking the dog that I found myself whistling the main clarinet part of the original where I kind of had that Eureka moment. I switched on the sine wave in my oscillators, put the notes in through a slew-limiter, which controls the portamento, or slide between the notes, and hit “record.” The modular synth was also used for almost all the percussion sounds in my piece. The various tracks were mixed and arranged in Ableton Live, and after a couple of small revisions requested by Marc, it was finished. He describes it as “Eastern European android folk music” which I think is entirely accurate and slightly wonderful.

Here’s the track.

You can read more about it and listen to the entire album, plus an interview with Marc, on Tablet’s website.

For those with a more esoteric interest, the VCOs used are the uLFO and the Malekko Oscillator for the melody, detuned a few steps on the chorus parts. The percussion is almost all Hertz Donut noises, with one clickity coming from the Microtonic plug-in. Volta handled the procedure of converting the MIDI notes from Ableton to voltage to the modular. The slew-limiter is the Livewire Dual Bissell Generator.

three drives

I first discovered Reason back in 2003 and spent a good deal of time playing with the demo of version 2.5. I was working on an animated promo for a book I had written and illustrated that was to be shown at a French book festival in Paris. With the idea of “driving” in mind, I meant to make something that would feel like it was in motion. This song, Drive, was the result. Eventually, it got replaced as the soundtrack to that animation, and I spent a little time making different versions of it over the years.
In 2005 I made one with a more synthy beepy feel. I used Reason for this as well, this time with Matrix running Malström for the bell in the background, and Subtractor as the main synthesizer. This was used by my friend Barbara as a soundtrack to a movie she made for a graduate thesis project. It worked well for that.
Two years later, I had made a little movie following my son around a playground on our bikes and I needed a soundtrack. So once again, I repurposed “Drive.” This time, I exported the MIDI from Reason and brought it into Ableton Live, using Operator as the main synthesizer. I added drums and made it much more complicated.

Here are the three versions of “Drive,” followed by the movie that used the third version as a soundtrack.