The muscle of generosity

Last week I listened to Jon Hopkins on the podcast Tape Notes, and over the weekend I listened to another episode featuring the UK techno-duo Bicep.

I listened quite a lot to Bicep’s music a few years ago and spent some time thinking about their techniques, how they had achieved certain sounds. I didn’t go as far as to reverse-engineer and recreate. But now I can to a certain degree. Because in the episode Bicep very generously shared their tricks using gates and filters on synth-pads triggered by 909-hats. Which is how they achieve their rhythmic and choppy riffs which feature in songs such as Glue, Apricots and Opal.

It’s a technique they use a lot. All their most played hits on Spotify seems to use them. And still, they didn’t keep it to themselves like some Coca-Cola recipe.

I’d like to view this as both generous and confident. They know that their talent, taste and skill is more than that particular trick. So they give it away. Not that experienced synth-producers couldn’t have figured it out their own, I more or less already did. But still, listening to the episode I got a lot more ideas on how to improve my craft and grow my skills. So, thank you Bicep! I thought it was awesome.

Here’s a short test of the techniques taught by Bicep. A four-bar loop of synthpad chords that is chopped up by a sidechained gate and later also by a sidechained filter. I vary some settings as it runs.

Dub Stroganoff

The kitchen is a place where creativity often is necessary to solve problems of making the best possible meal of the ingredients available. Need is the mother of invention. There’s a lot to learn from that process. Too bad we spend so much time living in abundance.

Beef Stroganoff is a dish of Russian origin. It’s got its own entry on Wikipedia. There are different recipes. One of the famous is based on beef, onion, tomato and cream. Since beef was expensive in Sweden, people here exchanged the beef for a cheaper ingredient, falukorv – ”falu sausage” – a Swedish speciality, although in the lower price section. The resulting dish was pretty good and as a result the idea spread.

Meats aside, I think the principle is interesting as a creative technique. Keep the recipe of something established, but change the main ingredient and see what happens.

There’s a lot I’m fascinated by in Jamaican dub music. Dub is the result of a remix process in which the producer runs the separate instrument stems into a mixer, and by clever usage of the mixing board as well as outboard effects (spring reverb, tape-echo, phaser and filters) comes out with a new version – a dub plate of the original song.

The main ingredient in Jamaican dub is reggae music. Reggae is not what I do, so for a long time I’ve daydreamed about doing my own stroganoff version of dub. Feeding the mixer with other kinds of music. Folk, slow house and lazy beats.

For some reason, I never get around to it despite having all the equipment. Dub stroganoff remains a brilliant idea in theory. I’m not sure, but I believe abundance has something to do with my failure of putting it into practice.

Having an unreliable narrator

I listened to the Broken Record podcast featuring the singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier yesterday. It was a really good episode and songwriter masterclass of some sort. I found it interesting to hear about her being absolutely determined to make the song true – in the emotional sense. Even if it was fiction, it needed to be told as true as possible. A song discussed was “I drink” which is told through the perspective of a character with a drinking habit. The interesting thing was that in the song she uses techniques to show us that the narrator is deceiving himself, that he is not to be trusted.

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German inspiration

After a high activity first month of blogging I decided to take a step back. I feel it’s time to rein in the writer and have fewer, but hopefully better posts, with a clearer focus on the music and my process. I have created four categories for my posts – inspiration, exploration, creation and reflection. Nothing wrong with a little Ordnung, as they say in Deutschland.

The Mannheim EP-project is very much alive, but musically it’s been moving a bit slower this week. I listened to a podcast by Brian Funk in which he said something along the line … when something is important we have a tendency to play it safe. I could instantly relate and see why I had started to question my first songs for the EP. Too vanilla, too little playfulness, too little exploration and too much trying to be a good musician. Which is sort of a dead-end-street, since I’m not.

Having a defined concept is interesting, though. Mannheim – a German town in my memory. When I think about it there is no shortage of details, memories or themes to use as trampolines and launchpads for ideas. German music is no exception. I like to see this as an opportunity for exploration. To enter into dialogue with a tradition. And I don’t think trying on costumes is a bad thing. Do I sound good in this? Or even better, who could I be in this suit. So, I got the idea to visit/revisit a few sounds to see if there’s something for me there.

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