Thursday, September 30, 2010

Primordial (Below Heaven and Earth)

The third track from Smear Campaign, Primordial, is probably the most complex of the entire album. It's name comes in two parts. First, Primordial came from the film Altered States, which I happened to be watching one day while working on the track. A pretty good film, I must add. The second portion was appended due to the hellish vibe the track ended up with.

The piece started with drums, which run the majority of the track's duration. The drum sounds were taken from an impromptu recording session with Ryan Boland and myself. The drum kit included a floor tom, a large plastic bucket, a cymbal and a snare with a wooden block bouncing around on top of it. I believe at some point I played a mesh trash can with guitar strings, but I don't believe that element exists in the track.

The initial drum line was simply two repetitions of Ryan's entire take, split by only a few seconds. This was trimmed apart some as the busier portion of his take became slightly awkward when slowed down (sounds amazing in real-time, for the record). The majority of the track revolves around about 45 seconds of the stretched take. Within this 45 seconds was a short laugh, which provides the demonic laugh when the drum loop ends in the middle and near the conclusion.

The main ambient portion of this track came from a 35 second Western rock piece I wrote for a contest on MusikPitch. It was obvious I was not going to take the prize with my entry, so I decided the best option was to recycle. This short bit ended up making a fantastic addition in that it brought a very unique vibe into the track. The original instrumentation of acoustic guitar, bass, drums, shakers and whistle turned into a fine blur of desolation.

What makes this track so complex are the shorter bits which are strewn about the entire piece. These bits include screams, distorted synth lines, bass drops, percussive hits and a brief sample from an amateur adult film, just to name a few. All of these clips were taken out of tracks I had previously composed, some dating as far back as 2004.

Lesson learned here, you really never know when you might need that porn sample you used in a rap track one day 6 years ago.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ghost in the Machine

The second track on Smear Campaign, Ghost in the Machine, was the true beginning of the album. Although it was not the first to be completed, it was the first to have an arrangement, which actually dates back an entire year.

Ghost in the Machine was conceived through experimentation with Nasca Paul's utility PaulStretch. Upon finding the utility, I began sending just about everything I had on hand through it to see how it would sound. At first the sounds used were longer and layered pieces, often making for overly confused soundscapes. It was when I delved into my custom sample directories that I found the base for this particular beauty.

In one of my directories existed a short message which I sampled off an answering machine many years ago. The caller was unknown and the message was unclear. It was the sound of a girl who appeared to be crying, the only intelligible words being "I'm so sorry". It was all a bit unsettling.

Needless to say, I loaded it up into PaulStretch to see what would happen. What came out were some of the creepiest sounds I had ever witnessed. I continued to experiment with lengths, blur settings and harmonics. When I was done I had a directory full of different versions, of which I chose four to use in the final arrangement.

The four versions are each presented with a unique sound. One is heavily reverberated, one is bit crushed, one is degraded with a vinyl simulation and the final is mostly plain, which is the most prominent in the mix. Each of the more heavily effected layers fade in and out through sections of the piece.

Ghost in the Machine is the only piece on the album to include parts which were not based on existing recorded material. These parts are the spoken word and the supporting bass. The bass was necessary because of the narrow frequency spectrum of the phone message. Without this bass, there wouldn't have been any activity below the lower-mid frequency range, meaning rumble would have been way out of the question.

The spoken word was added as I felt a bit of chanting would fill out the track nicely. I had an idea of something I could use from a past recording, but it turned out that I no longer had the individual files. So I brought up a lorem ipsum generator online and recorded some nice latin-esque spoken word parts.

The original arrangement was close to 11 minutes and included a spoken word dialog placed in the foreground. The dialog had a great sound to it, but ultimately I felt it took away from the ghostly atmosphere. After this exclusion some trimming was more than necessary, bringing the piece down to it's final duration.

On a side note, the completed chanting portion was also used in my Halloween setup that year.

Regarding the original phone message: The reasoning behind the call was never discovered and was assumed to have been a wrong number. The meaning was also lost in her crying. Was it a breakup? or worse yet, was it a call for help? To this day, I still have no idea if it was real or a prank.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Deepest of Black Waters

Though it was not the point of origin for the album, The Deepest of Black Waters was Smear Campaign's first completed track. The name for the track came from an old demo I had of an Opeth-esque metal track, which was never going to be finished and was much less fitting for the title.

Like it's successor, Ghost in the Machine, this track was inspired heavily by my discovery of PaulStretch, a utility created by Nasca Paul that essentially stretched audio to extreme lengths, without changing the pitch. I had this ability before, but Paul's utility allowed for realtime experimentation and a unique smearing ability.

The make up of this track is rather simple, consisting of only three parts, which I like to refer to as the drone, the ambiance and the melody. The drone was originally a percussive synth line that I created a few years back with the discovery of "Details" by Frou Frou. Blurring these percussive hits produced a rather peaceful drone reminiscent of crashing waves.

The ambiance and the melody were both created using tracks from a collection of guitar experiments I compiled while Ryan Boland and I were working to compose instrumental horror stories. We did succeed in creating one piece, a 9 minute journey set in a ghost town, but the parts used in The Deepest of Black Waters were not a part of that. They were outtakes.

Before anyone begins to think this piece was just three random bits stretched and thrown together, I should add that these source files took a lot of trial and error time to find. Beyond this the mixing, triming, effect layering and arranging processes were all quite involved. This piece is much more than just three audio files stacked atop one another, it is an intimate arrangement of sound design.

Smear Campaign Release

Today marks the official release of my first full length album, Smear Campaign. The writing process was a fun and emotionally rewarding journey which I won't soon forget. There were some people who helped in the success of this album who I feel should be mentioned. First and foremost being my family, who never stop being supportive, even if I do compose music in a not so popular style. Keldrick Brown, for creating such awesome and fitting artwork. Nasca Paul for his amazing utility PaulStretch which I used in building the foundation of many of the tracks. James Phillips for being one of the biggest supporters of the style. and Ryan Boland, for his contributions to my giant pool of recordings, some of which appear (in varying forms) on the album.

Obviously I'm thankful for everyone's support, those in this list and those who do not appear by name. You all help me to continue my work as a composer, and for that I am truly grateful.