May Challenge 13: Bottle up

Today’s instrument.

Sylvan Esso is one of my favourite bands from the last few years. I like them in so many ways, but what I find especially interesting is the blend of folk sensibility with electronic beats – while keeping it all in the pop domain.

Nick Sanborn has been very generous with sharing some of his production techniques. And I hope to try some of them out. Today’s jam was inspired by the breathy, flutey stutter of the Sylvan Esso song Frequency. According to Sanborn it is made up from a vocal sample on the OP-1, then played as chords – and ran through his modular synth.

I didn’t really have access to that. But the sound of Frequency reminded me of pan flutes or blowing in bottles. So, that’s what I did. I filled a wine bottle with water. Recorded a snippet onto my phone. Dropped it into Ableton sampler and had the M4L-device Melodic Steps followed by some midi-fx come up with a chord-riff.

I added some drums, Minitaur-bass, rhodes with beat repeat and then there’s some “failed blowing” that I put a gate on and sidechained to the drums for percussive effect.

I didn’t really end up that close to the Sylvan Esso song. The breathy airyness that I wanted to emulate was simply a starting point. Texture-wise I was pretty satisfied. The bass…not so much hmm.

May challenge 12: I know this river very well

This is a rough take on a song. The main guitar is running through an EHX Qtron+ with a delay pedal in the fx-loop. Qtron is a bit tricky to dial in, I will have to work on that. The approximation of the melody was played on my Moog Minitaur using a Push 2. I did a first take recording the midi-notes, then resampled to audio while tweaking the synth.

May challenge 11: 70s?

I watched a great film in the series Small Axe by Steve Mcqueen tonight, unfortunately it didn’t really take me into full reggae. The loose idea was to make something in the vein of John Martyn. I sent a drumbeat through the echo, volume-swelled some chords and fooled around on guitar and “bass” (=guitar + octave pedal).

I’ve had better luck sounding like John Martyn on other nights. These challenges are a bit daft in a way, on the other hand – doing one is better than doing none. I’m fighting inertia.

May challenge 10: Tape loop messiness

Everytime I’ve made tape-loops the output is pretty unexpected. So I wanted do some cassette tape-looping today. It’s a really crappy and “skiddy”cassette. Not the greatest thing I’ve done. I recorded C-major chord notes onto three channels on my (broken) Fostex 4-track. Dumped them into Live while tweaking a delay pedal on the aux send. Repeated three times and then added some inbetween station radio.

May challenge 9: I liked this one

Recently I’ve listened to several episodes of Hanging out with audiophiles – Jamie Lidell’s podcast. In each one he has a short segment called Nitty Gritty where takes on something experimental soundwise and shows his findings. I’ve really grown to like this. And it seems to me that experimenting/learning something is how challenges like this one could be used.

Today, I started out by deciding to watch an OP-1 tutorial by Liam Killen to see if there was any technique I could put to use. Of course there was. I picked up the idea of using the Endless sequencer in random mode set to triplets. I recorded 8 bars, put four chords on top (Dissolve – pad preset), my trem-bass which gives me a little Twin Peaks-feeling and simplest possible drums.

I actually thought the piano melody turned out rather touching at certain points. At least I was moved and it seems to hint at a full song. All Op-1.

(Guess I was in a hurry, to get it published so I could tick-off my challenge for today. After doing so, it just took me a few minutes to write a B-part. I’ll be back.)

May challenge 8: Droning blind

Today’s jam was totally in the dark. I had no time and as a last option I found a bank of … feedback samples? on my SP404sx. Long drones. I don’t remember recording them. Anyway I alternated between playing 6 or 8 of them, starting and stopping and did som Kaoss pad on top. A “readymade” beat on the Volca Beats gave some structure.

Oh well.

May challenge 7: Fourtrack loop

Today’s jam started as I sat in the dark outside my son’s room waiting for him to fall asleep. I had my Op-1 with me, and it was good practise, because with no back-lit buttons I really had to think about what I was pushing. Some drums, a tremolo-bass, a lead-line (vocal sample) + strummed guitar recorded with the OP-1 built-in mic.

For the low-ambition live take to Ableton I sent it all through my lofi-sampler chain and goofed around a little. I apologize for not making more of an effort, but for now it’s the process and not the product.

Findings/reminders: I haven’t used the Op-1 much lately, but taking it up again I’m reminded that it can be quite fun. It’s easy to get something going fast. And I actully really like using it for drums. Dialling in swing etc.

May Challenge 6: “Feedback welcome”

I spent quite a bit of time and energy earlier this year thinking about my studio routing, how to make best use of my patchbay and mixer – to get a fast and smooth workflow. I think the setup turned out pretty good. The only thing missing is putting in the time doing the work to learn the ins and outs in practise. Which is what makes this jam challenge very good for me. I’m patching a lot and I’m practising dub techniques such as routing feedback loops from my mixer to my echo etc. While I’m all fine with the theory part, there definitely is a lot of practise needed to get levels right and making everything sounding their best. I keep failing, in for me interesting ways.

This jam started with a simple melodic sequence sent from my Arturia Beatstep to the Microbrute synth. I tweaked some knobs, tweaked the echo and played the mixer. Recorded it all into Ableton. Added an 808-beat, a bass synth and some piano chords (which I doubled and reversed one copy). Some fx-automation and it’s a jam.

The feedback loop involving the echo is interesting. The pure amplitude part just means increased number of repeats. But if I turn up the spring reverb on the echo I get howling feedback – and turning up the chorus results in flanger-like spaceship sounds.

May challenge 5: Gardener of love

Today is May 22, 2021 – and it’s the 50th anniversary of my parent’s wedding. Pretty amazing, crazy and perfectly reasonable considering the people they are. I put in an ad in the local paper and I called them this morning to congratulate them. They’re both in their late 70s but live a very active life, full of chores, staying healthy with quite a lot of gardening.

As it happened, after the call I spent the morning gardening while listening to Sylvan Esso and thinking about what kind of jam to do today.

One thing led to another, so I wrote a short song, or the start of the song. I might work on it, or not. Here’s the lyric and the first voicememo-recording of it.

May Challenge 4: Dub Trouble

Once again, right before midnight. Tried to get something going on the OP-1. Failed. Plan B: Microbrute. Three notes on the sequencer into my Re-501 tape echo and me trying to dub something out on my Mackie mixer. I routed the echo return out onto my ALT 3-4 buss leading to Sp-404sx, Kp3+ and SP-303 Vinyl Sim. Fooled around a bit and recorded it all into Ableton.

Once in the box, a basic four-to-the-floor seemed to make all my fooling around seem more deliberate and meaningful. The variations within the loose jam became more interesting framed by a more rigid structure. So I just threw on some dub chords and decided to call it a jam.

Tomorrow is Saturday and I hope for some extra time to make something more considerate and thought-through. Or, maybe the whole point of this exercise is not to think. Just do and see where it leads.