by Spite Zoo
All live percussion and brassy parps by Das Sombreros!!
for more Das Sombreros, visit: http://soundcloud.com/sherratto
An Explanation/ Apology:
Right. I know a lot of you will be thinking that this is just a load of random rubbish thrown together with scant regard for accepted notions of musicality and in many ways that’s a fair comment. However, I feel that I might like to try to explain some of the thought processes that go into pieces like this, and the motivation behind it.
Recently I have been experimenting with a much more serendipitous approach to composition, utilising methods such as feeding a small FM radio into my modular synth, preparing a complex patch that will deconstruct the audio and apply all manner of rhythmic and textural modifications to it. I have absolutely no control over what audio appears at the radio’s output, and manipulate its tuner throughout to further add to the spontaneity. Amazingly I rarely seem to settle on bland, mundane material - such as a sport commentary or weak afternoon play - but rather happen across quite deep, philosophical discourse (such as the excellent passage about travelling that appears at the end of “Troubles Travel With You”). Sometimes a single word or short phrase will then suggest a theme or atmosphere for the resulting piece. In “State Radio”, for example, the simple word “Governments” led me into musing on the Cold War, and brought to mind early Test Department, with its attendant rattly percussion and eerie loops.
In this track, the main dialogue appeared on the radio as I was experimenting with synthesis techniques similar to vocoding, where the synth as made to “talk” by using envelope following, along with frequency modulation of oscillators and self-oscillating resonant filters - all controlled by the radio’s audio output. As a result of the radio’s timely intervention the piece’s theme became the workings of the brain, memory and the studies that have taken place with regard to people who have suffered traumatic brain injury. I was not entirely ready to record at this point, as I’d only just started putting the patch together on the modular, so the resulting audio was chaotic and parts of it were rendered totally incomprehensible by the extreme processing I was applying whilst recording the jam. Rather than dismiss these passages, I decided that they should be instead further highlighted. The result is that the listener hears the dialogue through a distorted and malfunctioning brain.
One thing I really love is when words and sound engage in a type of “dialogue”, becoming one and the same. I chose certain phrases to poke through the sonic bedlam at specific points, almost as if the narrator is commenting on the piece itself. Immediately after a section of incomprehensible noise the voice comments that “something is missing”. After one challenging passage, another voice decides that “the process does seem extraordinary”. I chose to leave most of the decipherable dialogue in its original positioning, and journey from each point via sonic transitions that seemed appropriate. It can be a challenging task making anything even remotely listenable from material such as that found in this track, so decisions need to be taken which will inform the structure and arrangement. In this case, these were largely informed by the dialogue. Or lack of.
Serendipity plays a large part in these pieces, and one good example of this is the word “clues” that appears a couple of times. You might be forgiven for thinking that this is in fact the word that was spoken. It wasn’t. It was simply a random syllable from a bit of reversed, looped and cut-up dialogue that I chose because I liked the sound of it. I was paying no attention to its meaning at all, and only noticed that it sounded like “clues” right near the end of the process. It is perfectly fitting, however, as the track (without this lengthy explanation) is a riddle, in turns perplexing, amusing and irritating.
This leads me neatly onto my next point. Although I do like it when things fit together neatly, and there appears to be an appreciable meaning present, in tracks like these I am also strongly drawn to elements that are surreal, or perplexing. I have a vivid memory as a young boy of reading a book which discussed in detail Hieronymus Bosch’s work. In one passage, the writer dissects a bizarre character who has wings, one of which has a strange white dot at its tip. He muses that if it had been just the little bit smaller or larger it would have been of no significance, but its strange size and appearance was somehow oddly unsettling. I remember being fascinated by this idea, and this “unsettlingly sized" - and strictly unnecessary “dot” has crept, sonically, into many of the tracks I have put together over the years. Just that one sound that really shouldn’t be there. A sonic question mark. A completely dry recording of a bottle being hit by a spoon in an otherwise lush and ambient arrangement. That’s the ‘dot”. It just HAS to be there somewhere!
Another element that I like to introduce if I can is comedy. That may sound lie a stretch, and we’re not talking “comedy songs” here, but rather blackened and twisted comedy, such as that which is found in Chris Morris’ “Jam” and the like. I was always rather peeved that a reviewer of my Blue Light Fever album dismissed one track as being a rip-off of “Jam”, as it had been finished in 1996, before even the original radio version, “Blue Jam”, had even been aired. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all! The kind of comedy I like is that which makes you feel uncomfortable, producing manic, nervous laughter.....along with extremely surreal material, although there is a very fine line between surreal and irritatingly “whacky”. I’m sure that my idea of amusing is extremely irritating and juvenile to some people, or that many listeners will be completely unaware of any comedic intent whatsoever. I’m sorry to have to inform you that these elements will continue to surface from time to time! In this particular track, I kept myself amused by imagining that I am irritating the radio narrator, who is obviously trying to get some very enlightening material across to the best of his ability. I initially noticed that often, when he is just getting to an important point, I have then - not intentionally - obscured said point through turning one knob too many on the modular, reducing him to mere noise. I work in a college, and part of my job is teaching Music Technology to often rather unappreciative students. It has been a particularly tiring period at work recently, and everyone has pretty much had enough of 16-19 year olds for the time being, so with this in mind I thought that I’d add insult to injury where our poor narrator is concerned by ladling on a load of party horns and comic sound effects at one point, just as he is reaching a significant point. I know. Very juvenile...but it made ME laugh! There is one other bit that actually makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it, but I’ll let you be the judge of that one, as jokes that are explained tend to lose a bit of their punch! And no, the track’s title isn’t a typo...
So it all seemed to gel together quite nicely, apart from the odd “dot” here and there.
Hopefully this will have been of some interest to someone out there, and will go some way to answering the most obvious question - “eh?? WHY????"
For the more technically-minded out there, the delays are a combination of the EHX Memory Boy Deluxe BBD Sound Of Shadows and a cheapo Biyang AD-8, in combination with the a199 Spring reverb. Filters were the Toppobrillo Multifilter and possibly the z2040.