Disquiet Junto 0393 Mix Master

The Junto this weeks asks for a new piece combining elements from three previous tracks.

Some weeks ago I noticed my song 'Alright' was the same tempo as my Junto track 'Somewhat' and found they worked well together.

I'd already used the bass part in my track 'Bad Politics' so I set about recording a new part.

Now I've realised those three tracks, although some might say it kinda bends the Junto project a little.

Cursed chords

Space in music

Marc Weidenbaum's email newsletter, This Week in Sound, recently shared this information from Robert Fripp's diary:
The primary factor in choosing a setlist is the performance space. Only part of this is the acoustics. Each performance space / venue / auditorium has its particular spirit of place: churches, burlesque theatres, rock clubs, classical halls small and large; with performance and listening practices, determined mainly by the culture and history of the region.

It prompted me to reconsider another piece of information about a musician, Johann Sebastian Bach. Some while ago I'd read that he composed for Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the church where he became Kapellmeister nearly 300 years ago.

While looking for information about Bach composing with reverb in mind, I found this:
Acoustics has been an important influence on music. Many composers have had in mind, consciously or subconsciously, the acoustics of the space in which their music will be played.

That piece outlines the role of space in shaping music, like:
Greogorian chant was written for medieval cathedrals with long reverberation times; similarly organ music of any period requires a reverberant space. E. Power Biggs said: “An organist will take al the reverberation time he is given, and then ask for a bit more…. Many of Bach’s organ works are designed …. to explore reverberation. Consider the pause that follows the ornamented proclamation that opens the famous Toccata in D minor. Obviously this is for the enjoyment of the notes as they remain suspended in the air”. Church music sounds wrong when performed in a small non-reverberant space with a lot of acoustic absorbent such as curtains and carpets.

And I've spent a couple of days considering the provocative idea "that the most important single fact in the history of music" was "the insertion of galleries in Lutheran churches" as they reduced reverberation in those spaces where music was performed.

For a while I've been pondering the influence of technology on the development of music and reverb is a beaut example, particularly since different types have become associated with genres.

As I was a watching Craig Schuftan's panel conversation from Loop this morning, he mentioned that Bertolt Brecht described "the mirror and the dynamo" as the tension between tradition and innovation in the arts.

So, I'm jumping across topics here, it fascinates me how this plays out in the reverbs I use in my music.

The mirrors are emulations like the EMT140 plate and the models of Ocean Way's studios, while Valhalla Shimmer seems (to my naive ears) as something distinctly new when I use it for a big ambient pad-like effect -- although, now I looks at the website, I see it was based on older models.

I'd guess the dynamos in more recent years are developing in convolution reverbs which, while imitations of existing studios use that to mimic their spaces, can shape sounds in ways that are without precedent.

Thinking on how the acoustics of a space shaped composers like Bach led me to consider how UAD effects users are now able to use modelled spaces like the Ocean Way and Capitol Chambers plug-ins in their own productions.

Given how those reverbs impart a famed character and can be used to connote an atmosphere, it seems like we're getting back to writing music with specific ambiences in mind.

Part of me enjoys the reverb response that put my music in those spaces that mirror expensive studios, while another part hungers to push on and create something distinctly my own.

It seems like that tension underlies so much music, walking a line between helping audiences recognise something and forcing them to try and find their way in a new space.

It also reminds me of the epiphany I had a few years ago while listening to music that could be described as drone. The way those notes hung while I lay with my eyes closed led me to realise that I couldn't gauge the space I was in. It was simultaneously without space and all space, which led to a transcendent quality that I've only previously experience in an altered state.

How to get a killer vocal

Yes the planet got destroyed

Disquiet Junto 0392 Another Country

The Junto this week asks for an anthem for a fictional country.

It stirred a number of thoughts for me, rekindling my desire for Australia to have a better national and then remembering my curiosity about an inland state that might have been in that country.

A while ago I shared a passage from The Plains by Gerald Murnane, which I'd read because I've been fascinated by a proposal during the nineteenth century for a separate state covering the floodplains of southern New South Wales and northern Victoria.

In my mind I pondered whether it might be a separate country, one which addressed a fundamental issue in Australian history and had established a treaty with the First Nations.

It often seems incredible to me that Australia is the only English colony without a treaty, particularly given the projections for growing identification as Aboriginal.

The state of Victoria has been moving toward developing a treaty and it saddens me that the Uluru Statement met such a muted response.

It was with issues of inclusivity that I approached writing my anthem, as well as environmental sustainability.

You can see these themes in the lyrics:

Where the songbird has flown
from the start of time
in our hearts we know
we hold all humankind
through the night and through the day
love grows where we play

We’re the future of the earth
we live in freedom without fear
we cherish our pleasure
and hold each other dear
walking lightly on the ground
we improve how it was found

We learn all worth knowing
your voice can join our tune
we share and we receive
our land goes to the moon
with our words we give a lift
praise each other’s gift

Our future like sunrise
beating hearts like soaring wings
full of promise is our sky
in unity we sing
growing power with the sun
of the new millennium
hear our song in unison
we stand as one

After recording myself accompanied by my baritone ukulele today, I had an idea that a marching band could make a better backing track.

So I set about creating a MIDI track and ran those chords through Ableton Live's woodwind samples.

Unfortunately the baritone peeks through the vocal track in a couple of places.

Someone who lied

Cities and Memory

After getting involved in a couple of Cities and Memory projects, I started an email interview with founder Stuart Fowkes for Cyclic Defrost that was published this week.

Their latest project, Space is the Place, also launched this week and uses the sounds in this video produced by The Guardian.

Bad Politics

Long Distance Dan brings his production skills to my rant about the NSW police state.

'Bad Politics' is likely to be on my next album, SING.

Loudest sounds on Earth

Disquiet Junto 0391 Front Page

The Junto assignment this week is to "Make music that fills in where the news trails off."

I've used the opening line of a story about a planned rose garden from the neighbouring city of Griffith, in part because I like the imagery.

This chord progression is one I've been strumming on my ukuleles recently, although I'm not entirely sure of the key -- it seems to go from A Minor to A Major in the chorus.

Anyway, it's been good to record it and consider how I might improve it.

Disquiet Junto 0390 Pace Quickens

The Junto this week asked for an old recording sped up, which led me to remember the 10 beats-per-minute composition for Junto 299.

This week I've also been playing with the sustained E minor chord for Junto 300, so I've added it too.

For good measure I've included drums.

Pretending to be in a music video like

Disquiet Junto 0388 Random Less

The Junto this week asks for "a single piece of music with very few tools, all selected at random."

I wrote a few lists of instruments and then rolled a dice to decide which I'd use.

The result was my baritone ukulele, upright electric bass and drums.

I already had a few chords in mind, but the four-fingered one and a small window to record led me to decide on arranging the parts in Live.

A few chords and phrases were recorded, then some drums at the tempo and I spent a little time on Friday night arranging the instruments in my laptop.

On Saturday morning I knew I'd only have a short amount of time to record the bass, as I was going to be in Matong and Wagga for the following nights.

I was stuck trying to figure out some of the root notes but had an idea the track's key is E minor/G major.

While I was waiting for my kids to wake up, I began programming a MIDI bass part and had an idea to use a 5/4 time signature so the bass would start on a different note each bar.

At first I wasn't sure it worked but it has grown on me.

Hopefully, when I return to listen to this track in a few days, I still like it.

If not, I can always rework the parts into something else.

Becoming the future

The CAD Factory recently hosted Susan Rogers, whose experience as a studio engineer informs her role as a professor of psychology at Berklee College of Music.

In her presentation she linked research in music cognition back to first-hand observations about the music industry, drawing on her roles in the production of popular music by musicians like Prince, David Byrne and the Barenaked Ladies.

One of the themes in the discussion was introduced as she outlined how a Sonny and Cher album caught her ear as a child and the artwork showed her the role of a studio engineer. Rogers described the “mystery of children, deep down inside, we know who we are.”

She didn’t labour the innate knowledge that music stirs but, looking back over my notes, it’s surprising how often it featured in the talk. From research demonstrating that very young chickens respond to timeless music by Bach more than other sounds, through to her observation that young kids show pop music’s appeal in that unselfconscious way in which they’ll express their appreciation by moving their bodies. “Something in our physiology responds to good music.”

Rogers explained that “music is optimised audio” and the pleasure it stirs happens along neural pathways as sound passes a number of opiate receptors on the way through our brains. “Sound is a special form of touch,” she said and argued that music has developed as an emotion-manipulator — one that we use to self-medicate.

She cites David Huron who wrote in 2011 that the release of prolactin, a hormone which gives comfort, might explain the appeal of sad songs.

There are three key areas in which music works to capture our attention:
  • Cognition — making us think, particularly lyrics,
  • Emotion — making us feel, particularly through harmony (or dissonance), and
  • Meter — making us move, particularly through rhythm.

In combination listeners respond to arrangements that achieve tension and release. “As with language, we are surprised and delighted by novel constructs” although she noted that within popular Western music we can anticipate “it’s probably going to happen after eight bars.”

Psychologists often employ bell-curves and I was surprised at Rogers’ use, which showed an axis moving from simple, childlike melodies through to complex, avant-garde noise. In the middle, where the largest grouping sits, you’d expect to find popular music.

However, as popular music changes over time and adopts new sounds to keep up with trends. Rogers observed that it is worth incorporating ideas from ahead of the curve to anticipate their arrival in popular music. This reminded me that the one thing that I remembered about The Barenaked Ladies, who she produced, was the rapping in their music surprised me. She explained that initially she thought the band were too pop for her taste.

Looking to the other end of the axis, Rogers argued that music which appears very simple requires skill to appeal to its audience. Her example was Nashville, the home of country music and highly-skilled musicians because the apparently simple form of that style of music hides a nuanced delivery. The familiarity of the formula for music like country or blues means it stands out like the dog’s proverbial bollocks when the performance isn’t up to expectations of an audience attuned to the form of the genre.

Another model from psychology is the Venn diagram of overlapping circles and Rogers described how she was introduced to a design with three fields representing the audiences of public, musicians and critics. She recalled how Greg Kurstin and Tommy Jordan from the band Geggy Tah would debate who might be considered to have achieved the “triple crown” through satisfying each group, and I was delighted to hear they’d nominated Duke Ellington.

(If, like me, you’re wondering why the name Geggy Tah seems familiar, click above. However, I warn you this is an infectious example of their work. More recently Kurstin has contributed to a number of hit songs, including co-writing and playing most of the instruments on  Adele’s ‘Hello’.)

Of the fields in the Venn diagram, Rogers said “these three audiences will give different rewards” and that a smart record company executive would encourage an artist to pick one. “The public give love, musicians give respect and critics give fame.”

She reflected that one of the brilliant aspects of Prince was that he had reached each of these fields on successive albums, with Dirty Mind aimed at critics and Controversy at musicians and then 1999 at the public, Purple Rain back at critics and so on.

Another interesting diagram was the axis described by Bill Verplank, outlining archetypes that contribute to creative projects. It identified roles for:
  • Artists — unusual thinkers with ideas
  • Engineers — systems-centred builders
  • Entrepreneurs — leaders with social skills
  • Competitors — bullies who can get results

Rogers believes there is a physiological aspect to these characteristics, which means that some brains are shaped to fill the roles better than others. “Today’s unsigned artist will be tempted to do it all,” Rogers observed. “The more I embraced the things I am,” she outlined her roles as an engineer and scientist, “the better I perform.”

Given the popularity of Prince, it wasn’t surprising that one audience member took the opportunity to ask about Rogers’ experience working with him. I’d wondered if she had been able to speak more openly about that secretive musician since his passing and, when she reflected on how Prince’s experiences informed his creativity, it was quite incisive.

Rogers spoke to Prince’s lonely upbringing as a child sometimes locked in a room with musical instruments and how that pattern continued. First, when he left home, she said Prince could spend all night recording music in the basement of the friend’s family he moved in with.

Later Prince would have marathon recording sessions in which he would realise the music that was fully conceived in his mind. Susan Rogers said one session involved 96 hours without sleep. “I was seeing double at the end of that but, I was a fan, was I really going to say ‘No, I’d prefer to sleep’?!”

One of the reasons I was interested in hearing Rogers speak was her presentation at Sonar+D, where she identified the growing role for timbre in contemporary music production. “I think for the first time in our history now… we can make musical instruments that don’t exist.”

During the lunch break I took the opportunity to ask if this was a result of the shift to digital recording. “Yes, I think so” came the reply and toward the end of her presentation she elaborated on the shift.

Drawing on the writing of Eric Kandel, two paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner were shown and Rogers spoke about how they were a similar scene divided by the development of photography. In ‘The Shipwreck’ from 1805 (above left), you can easily identify a boat being enveloped by the sea. While in ‘Snowstorm: Steamboat Off a Harbour’s Mouth’ from 1842 (above right), it requires some interpretation to identify the vessel among the swirling darkness of what must be raincloud and water.

The parallel with audio is that the introduction of digital recording made it easier to achieve a realistic-sounding result and now we’re hearing an approach to sound like abstract expressionism develop in reaction. Abstract art requires a viewer to actively interpret the image and now digital recordings are using abstract sounds to represent parts that were previously played by instruments.

“By dismantling performance we can find new directions,” said Susan Rogers and I marvelled at her perspective as someone who has seen the music industry change shape and can make observations from the field of psychology.

It leads me to ponder those times when I feel like a child exploring sound. How exciting it is to hear music in field recordings and now I know those landscapes travel through poppy fields in my brain.

Are you in a band?

Disquiet Junto 0387 Everything & More

The Junto this week is quite daunting, asking for participants to "Make a single piece of music using every single instrument that you have at your disposal."

It would take most of the weekend to even find all the musical instruments I own, so I've revisited a recording that uses many of them and added in some of the takes that I'd originally left out.

There are three takes of acoustic guitar, two takes of four-string guitar, one Nashville-tuned guitar, one MIDI-equipped guitar, two basses, two melodicas and two takes of drums. All are single takes, many first takes.

Disquiet Junto 0386 New Colors

The Junto this week asks for a piece of comforting music that incorporates a new form of white noise.

I've revisited a video shot at Valla Beach last year, in part because the directions reminded me of the ocean recording I'd play for my newborn children.

Disquiet Junto 0385 Audubonus Instrumentum

When the Junto arrived, I imagined a sort of bird from speculative fiction.

Jorge Luis Borges writes in his compendium Book of Imaginary Beings about the musicians of Simurgh and their avian backing tracks.

The Bodgy Budgie breed of birds so substantially cornered and dominated the market in caged rhythms that the term ‘pigeonholed’ came into their music vernacular.

The backlash led many jams in Simurgh to be agitated by artificial means, as an aid to improvisation.

Some musicians explored their felines and Bassling popularised ‘dropping a cat among the pigeons’ – or, as it became simply known, The Drop.

"Sometimes a few birds, a horse, have saved the ruins of an amphitheater." — Jorge Luis Borges

When I realized

naviarhaiku279 – Ripples on water

Naviar Records shared one of my recent haiku and I took the opportunity to record a chord progression I've been playing on the ukulele.

You can hear it's been gated and glitched, which seemed a way to interpret the image of light reflecting on water.

I considered filming dawn on a water channel, but the mornings aren't always as colourful as I'd like.

Most mornings in Leeton have a rather muted dawn as there are few clouds to reflect the rising sunlight.

So I've drawn a visual parallel with another sort of colour breaking in the sky and also included the shimmer of light reflecting on water.

Facing Monsters

Single from the forthcoming album by Tralala Blip

Make your art like a dog

This is why I like creative constraints.

There's less to worry about what could be, and more focus on what can be.

Magnificent Eucalyptus melliodora

It's surprising what you can learn climbing a tree.

This short video is about a magnificent Eucalyptus melliodora outside Wagga.


Dylan goes electric

naviarhaiku271 – The heart is a fool

It was while nearing the end of recording the largest playable guitar in Australia that the haiku shared by Naviar Records arrived.

It's been a while between haikus but when I saw it was Lee Rosevere, I decided to improvise a quick response as the mics were already set up.

Australia's largest playable guitar

This week I'm realising a dream to record this unique instrument located in the Narrandera Visitor Information Centre.

Thanks to support from Narrandera Shire Council, Western Riverina Arts and Regional Arts NSW with funding through the Community Art Support Program offered the NSW Government.

Disquiet Junto 0375 Despite Yourself

The Junto this week asks for "a piece of music that sounds as unlike you as you can accomplish."

I considered a couple of options before settling on the idea of reimagining a song I wrote last year.

'Closer to Knowing' was inspired by the dream mentioned in the lyrics, as well as a couple of blog posts by women I know.

To get my vocals to sound unlike my voice, I've pitched them up an octave.

It's interesting that it doesn't quite sound female, more like a man pretending to be a woman -- reminding me of Eric Idle in Monty Python films.

Below is the demo version of the song that I recorded last year.

Disquiet Junto 0374 Glitch Glitch

The Junto this week asks "what happens when you glitch something that’s been glitched?"

I took a recording I made of a song I wrote earlier this week, ran it through Glitchmachines' Hysteresis and then into my Rabbit Hole delay.

Don't mind me

Disquiet Junto 0373 Copernican Music

The Junto this week involves communicating with aliens.

My idea was to use the human voice, as a way of familiarising them with people.

Then I thought about the messages I'd want to share, so I've welcomed them "Down under" and introduced "homo sapiens".

Each message ends with an affirmative "Alright!" when the aliens make the connection.

And, since it's a piece of music, I've added percussion and bass line.

Hope they like dancing!

The raw material comes from my recent track 'Alright'.

When your mix is fallin apart


Since the Disquiet Junto found a home on the Lines forum, I've spent a little time looking through their threads.

Recently there was a call for people to contribute a track using only sounds from their mouth, which I thought might be fun.

After considering a couple of ideas, I settled on using a rap I wrote around 20 years ago.

It feels a bit dated but I updated a few parts and hopefully it works.

Disquiet Junto 0372 Honeymoon Phase

The Junto this week asks for
a piece of music with (only) your most recently obtained instrument or music/sound tool.

This week I received my second Kaossilator, which are a synth with an XY controller.

They're going cheap since an updated version came out, and I had one of those but it wasn't as solid and broke quickly.

For the Junto I recorded for about 12 minutes, then spent an hour editing it back to a bit over 5 minutes.

The editing was done in Final Cut, which probably contributed to the time required.

You can see I layered a couple of earlier parts toward the end, and also repeated the drum loop without the bassline.

One drawback with the Kaossilator is the loops are short, which makes it tricky to incorporate a chord progression.

I want to be a musician

naviarhaiku266 – neon boulevard

Wasn't sure I'd respond to this haiku shared by Naviar Records.

It's a ripper but it wasn't until I remembered the footage from Christmas that I was moved to create a track.

That's the problem with using Youtube to publish music, I guess.

The music came together very quickly, repurposing a few minor chords.

Wish the video was more interesting but there aren't many neon lights in Leeton.

My knowledge of music theory

Disquiet Junto 0371 Concrete Ambience

The Disquiet Junto this week asks for music in the style of concrete wallpaper.

It prompted me to reply with a haiku that I think conveys the spirit of Junto projects.

Then I remembered the video I'd shot of my son playing a concrete xylophone outside the Questacon.

I'd sampled this video for a previous Junto but this track is more upbeat.

The concrete wallpaper is reflected in the sampled concrete and the repetitive pattern of the song, which loops once.

naviarhaiku265 – dark moon

The haiku shared by Naviar Records this week brought to mind a song I wrote last year, Closer To Knowing.

I recorded this version quickly on the ukulele and expect there'll be a polished, proper version on my next album -- which will be called SING for the vocal-driven songs it'll contain.

Different Use

Great to be part of another Shinobi Cuts remix chain

It starts and ends with tracks by MDK, who was on the Spymania label (early home to Cassetteboy, Squarepusher and Jamie Lidell).

Shinobi Cuts is a nod to Ninja Tune. who used to have a forum on their website where these remix chains started early this century.

Fun Fender ad

I had a Fender Precision like the bass pictured but didn't have the physique pictured, so it warped my back.

naviarhaiku264 – night wind

The haiku shared by Naviar Records this week has an Australian theme and coincides (coincidentally) with the national holiday

At first I felt a bit uneasy about trying to interpret the Dreamtime, which is a concept of the Australian Aboriginals.

This Dreamtime (great discussion here) is mythic and connects the indigenous people with their ancestors, so I wasn't sure that I could represent it in music.

Furthermore, Australia Day celebrates the arrival of the First Fleet, who claimed the country for Britain.

So it's becoming increasingly common for protests and calls to change the date to a more inclusive day for celebration.

After some reflection, I've settled on the line about the bush coming to life.

It's a phenomena that I've experienced while camping, particularly in remote locations.

Nocturnal animals roam the landscape and it can be surprising to encounter them, particularly the hiss of possums and the death metal-style growl of koalas.

James LoMenzo is a wuss

Disquiet Junto 0369 Final Solo

The Junto this week continues the collaborations and I've taken Alanza's piece that builds on Sevenism's reversed piano.

Listening back I might've been too busy with my bass playing but it was fun for me.

Below is Alanza's collaboration with Sevenism.

Disquiet Junto 0368 Engage Duo

The Junto this week builds on the last, asking participants to contribute to a recording.

I explored a few recordings before settling on 'Feedback Trio' by swhic, which is described as:
Speaker/mic feedbak with room ambience intervals 
Portable speaker and recorder.

You can see I've used my electric upright bass to contribute a simple part, setting the click to 99 BPM and moving from opening in A to F# into C#.

Five years of Naviar Haiku

naviarhaiku262 – the reef’s silence

Been a while since I responded to a haiku from Naviar Records, but this one prompted me to start thinking about a story.

It's only a couple of verses, so I think it may develop further.

Disquiet Junto 0367 Trio Initiate

The Disquiet Junto this week asks for a piece of music that allows space for collaboration in coming weeks.

I’ve recorded a chord progression at 108 BPM on my electric ukulele.

It goes Gm Dm Gm Dm A#7 Dm A#7 A7, then a chorus that’s F A F C.

You can download the track here.

Look forward to hearing parts from other participants and recording a collaboration next week!

Disquiet Junto 0366 Ice Breaker

It's a new year, and we start it just like we have every year since the very start of the Disquiet Junto, back in January 2012: "Record the sound of ice in a glass and make something of it."

First time I made something for the Junto with ice in a glass I used a contact mic and drew a comic.

This year it’s the third time I’ve used the glasses I recorded at my parents-outlaws’ house.

They were recorded using a Rode NT4 stereo mic and Zoom H4, later exported with the video from a Nikon D5100.

I began by opening the video in Ableton Live and finding loops, up to a few bars for rhythms and shorter for tones.

The rhythms were gated and layered.

You’ll see I’ve deleted some tracks where they’re not playing to edit the video, so what you see above is some of what you hear – as you’ll only see one loop at a time.

The kick is pitched down nearly four octaves and heavily compressed.

Those tone loops mentioned earlier have been repitched as descending notes, then I’ve duplicated the track and changed it around a bit (the light blue ones above).

The first track is playing through a reverb for the higher-pitched part (up about an octave), the second is creating a distorted and side-chained bassline through a Sinevibes effect.

I spent about an hour on Wednesday night developing one idea, then another hour on Thursday developing another, and then brought those together on Friday morning in about another hour.

Exporting the video took about that long too, so it wasn't such a long time spent making this track but I have a quick workflow these days.

This is the seventh time I’ve made something with ice in a glass and the process I’ve outlined isn’t so different to 2014, 2015 and 2017.

In 2013 I used a contact mic and ended up with a more ambient style of piece, then in 2016 and 2018 I used additional instruments – but that often felt difficult to create a cohesive sound, as ice in a glass is quite harsh and distinct.

Those qualities, particularly the transients, make the project a challenge each time and I try to get better but still think my 2015 piece was my best.

This year was good but maybe I’ll do even better next year.

No sir prison

While listening to old songs, I started layering them up and found these two from 2016 worked well together.

New album: DANCE

I've decided to put together a few albums in 2019 and started with the uptempo material that's accumulated since 2015.