Monday, June 13, 2011

Crazy Sounds and the Big Picture

Last night we tracked some accordion courtesy of Mr. Jake Bush, a member of both Pesky J. Nixon and the Baker Thomas Band. (I encourage you to check out their music!) During the session we got some really crazy accordion loops that created quite an effect: cavernous echoing, spooky undulations, and other sonic adventures that may or may not end up in the final mix. It got me to thinking about how this record is different from Seven Years Now, and what I'm actually doing with music. The Big Picture. I will confess right away I don't know what the Big Picture is, exactly. (It might not even exist! HA!) Seriously though, I don't really know what I want my music to sound like in 20 years. Or 40. All I have are a series of little pictures, snap-shots of where I've been and where I want to go, but on a more gradual basis and smaller scale. I feel a certain necessary impulse to continue on with all this, despite not knowing exactly where I'll end up with it all. So in a sense the Big Picture is very important and in another sense it is a distraction. Music has become necessary for me, in a way that tends to dominate all other aspects of my life, for good or for worse. And right now the focal point of my life is this record.

So what's going on with this record? Well, to put it bluntly: it's going to be a little weirder than the last one. Certain desires of mine to incorporate new sounds and vocalizations are surfacing here. I tread slowly in this direction, though. Whatever we add or change in the studio must be necessary to the song. We're not going to add a lot of really neat sounds just because they're fun... They must contribute to the expressive potential of the original musical/lyrical idea(s). The core of any song must be illuminated by any arrangement, effects, etc., and not obscured.

This is something I often mull over, chew in the ole brain. As a spry lad in his early 20s, I had long been suspicious of how electronic sounds and studio manipulation could alter or change music to the point where it became the dominant force within the creative dynamic of a particular sound. In other words, by using certain sounds (not made by humans), the humanity of the music was lost somehow, in my ear. For me it somehow obscured whatever was at the core of a song, or rendered any expressive potential mute and lifeless. What was supposed to be a peripheral element ended up defining the sound for me. It was like eating a cake made entirely of frosting. Yuck. Gimmick.

This all changed about eleven years ago, when I first heard the Radiohead album "Kid A," in particular the track "Idioteque." The record overall was definitely like nothing I'd ever heard before, and I was initially overwhelmed by all the sampling, loops, crazy sonic textures, etc. And this song specifically was quite jarring at first. A spastic drum loop colored with an almost disorienting chord progression. Weird blurps and frenetic percussion sounds move in and out. It was like some kind of apocalyptic disco music. But there was a certain point during the vocal track: right where Thom Yorke's voice slightly cracks singing ""this is really HAPPENING..." where everything seemed to change for me. Something about the passion in his voice and the intensity of his delivery really got to me. It was a bit of rock and roll leaking through all that electronica. The song came to life in my ear. And all of the crazy samples seemed to work in support of that energy, like all of those sounds needed to be combined in just that way to help reveal that passion in Yorke's voice at just that moment. It was really happening! This was a revelation for me: that electronica could be put to work in the service of an artistic vision and (human) expression. The more I listened to Kid A, the more I heard how all of the looping, sampling, etc. was completely necessary to the sound of the songs and the record overall.

Since then, my ear has been to some crazy places via many other bands and performers such as Wilco, Tom Waits, Pink Floyd, Kinski, Bon Iver, A Place to Bury Strangers and My Morning Jacket, to name just a few off the top of my head... But I can trace back to that moment hearing Idioteque, a profound change: the beginning of the death of the purist in me. All bets were now off. Any sound was now game.

I hope to infuse the current record-in-progress with a bit of this adventuresome spirit. Of course, some tunes resist being warped and manipulated into seemingly unrecognizable contortions of mad beauty. But other tunes welcome it... Overall, I am trying to stay focused on what each individual song wants, and what seems possible in trying to bring the listener into the heart of each moment, each idea, each image. Hopefully when it's done, and the dust settles, it will help on the way to understanding the Big Picture.