In this section, I’ll take apart songs from my new album, and walk you thru the process of how they were made.
The song “Totality” is built around a sampler instrument made from a single field recording, and most closely exemplifies the kind of workflow I imagined when I first envisioned the Vanishing Places project — using field recordings from wild places currently at risk, to build sampler instruments out of, which I could then use to construct fully realized pieces back in the studio. For this piece I imagined an infinite horizon that stretched on in all directions. I wanted to create a sound world where you kind of lost your sense of scale within a physical space, which is how the desert sometimes made me feel.
To get the kind of sounds I was hearing for this piece, I started by taking a field recording from a significant location within the National Monument, and then used the sampling software Kontakt to build a sampler instrument back home in the studio. I then processed that sound over and over until it resembled a drone from a synthesizer, which I then transferred from the computer, onto a cassette tape, one track at a time.
Here’s the field recording before it was processed:
I took that sample, pitched it and tweaked it in Kontakt.
Then processed it with a first round of effects, turing into to something that sounds vaguely like an organ. Albeit a rather boring one.
But with a bit more processing, it then turned into this.
When that’s all said and done, what you’re left with, is a single cassette, with four tracks worth of chords, that can be used to improvise and or perform on the 4 track. I marked down the notes as they correspond to the respective channels on the 4 track so I don’t forget them, then recorded an improvised piece back into the computer.
Here’s how they sound stacked up over the next three performances.
So what first started out as a single rock hitting the dirt, ended up providing not only the key of this piece, but also all the chord changes, the melody, and the dynamic arc of the song.
The idea for this approach, came from the combination of two ideas — one, which was to build sampler instruments out of audio taken from soundscapes of significance, along with an idea I borrowed from Alessandro Cortini — which is to use a 4 track as an instrument in and of itself. His explanation begins at 3:45, watch below.
Next element I added, was some low end, to give the track some movement. I sequenced the bass line using this synth. I wanted it to feel slightly terrifying and ominous, like something approaching from way out on the horizon.
I doubled the melody with a celeste, then improvised the post outro. Here’s how the celeste sounds after I got done treating it.
Lastly, I felt like the tapes needed a companion to create some tension in the track, so I built a loop out of an electric guitar and pitched it up, it never really repeats or lines up with the rest of the track. That’s intentional. Here’s the guitar on it’s own:
And now, here’s “Totality” in it’s entirety.