Monday, August 03, 2009

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QZEN

"All My Mistakes Are Belong to You"

When I was asked to return as a guest to Killswitch, a local happy hour at a small bar, I agreed, tossing out, "Maybe I'll have my live set done by then." "Shall I put that on the flyer?" "Sure." And so it was done. I had to finish SOMETHING. I had just under two months. This set was played live from 9-10pm on June 26, 2009.

Of course, most of the work on this was done about a week before the performance — up until about three hours before show time. I hadn't even played the set through once before performing. I need pressure to perform. I've always been this way, up all night before the paper's due, etc. All that lack of preparedness in mind, I think this turned out pretty well! Well enough that I'm sharing it with you. I don't want to be too precious about my mistakes; they don't help anyone if they're kept secret, so now they belong to you, too.

The keys and guitars in the first track (about eight minutes or so) are loops I pulled out of leftover audio from a 40 Thieves session with Jaswho?, a longtime Thieves contributor. I programmed the drum loops out of my sample library, recorded myself singing a little bit over the top, looped and pitched that, and just made up the arrangement as I played.

The next track (comes in around 9:30) is called "Da da da." I made this maybe two and a half years ago with Layne from the 40 Thieves when I first started to work with them. It was the first time I tried to really direct the track-making process with his acting as engineer. The bass is from an SE-1 we no longer have access to, and I think the strings are from our Juno. I was super nervous and couldn't think of lyrics, so that's why you get the silly da-da-da-ness on the vocals. At the time, I called the track "too Get Physical," meaning I wasn't being original enough. Layne had to remind me that making something that automatically brought a label's sound to mind was something many people strive for. Now, I don't know if it reminds me of any sound. I kind of had forgotten about it, but I was lucky to find a CD burned of the files for this a few weeks before show time, so I was able to pull out parts and re-play it live. I still love the weird gun-shot like sounds in this (like at 11:43), though I think I mixed them in a bit too quietly in this set.

The next track was made entirely of pieces I wrote the week leading up to the show, all drums programmed by me, pads played by me, then looped, and triggered live. I like the softly wonky bass in this one; it's just a funny sound to me. Part of the way through, you can hear I mis-triggered a loop, so it's off, and I obviously didn't catch this while playing live, so it's here to haunt me. I think at this point in the show, I started to actually have fun... The audience was full of friends who'd come out to support me, and I love my San Francisco family. There's a lot of talent here, and we're close-knit.

Woah, loud drums at 26:27! At least you can tell I'm mixing live, eh? Ah yes, a note on equipment. I'd borrowed an Evolution EC-33 controller from my good friend Tana, had my duet sound card, a Shure SM-58 mic, and my laptop running Ableton Live 7, plus my trusty Sennheiser headphones. Anyway, that loop and the vocals are sampled from a Human League track I cut up. The bass I played, and I made the knocking sound and played the keys. My microKontrol has been dropping keys, so I borrowed my friend Alona's M-Audio Axiom-49, so I had a keyboard controller to work with while I created the music. I get by with a lot of help from my friends!

At 33:20 starts an edit I made of this old track "IN-TEN-SIT-T" by Mickey Oliver that came out when I was ten years old. I found the record at A1 in New York on a digging spree with Alona a year or so ago. I liked the feeling of the raw '88 house, but the original track (I forget which mix I edited) was a bit much in places, so I created some loops and again, made up the arrangement as I played. I think it's a nice bridge into a little more intense part of the set.

37:51 brings in the hint of one of the biggies, "Sweat (On the Walls)," a track of John Tejada's that I did vocals on ages ago (2005). This track will never die though, and it always gets a great crowd reaction. I've done vocals live for John before, so I had the instrumental ready to go, but I have the delay feedback up too high, and you can hear me trying to figure out why it sounds so weird to me in the booth: "...and now, it's better?" (40:56) Of course, the problem wasn't really solved — I'd never played live never mind trying to mix a mic in, play, and remember lyrics — and so I totally lose my place, and the vocals are not really in the right place in parts. And yes, my mom & dad were there, and when I saw them, the HI-MOM-LOOK-AT-ME reaction just blurted out. Ha! I love that their presence is noted in the mix though, as they've always been supportive of my music obsession, even coming to my parties when I was 17 and throwing them because I wasn't old enough to get in otherwise.

The funny part about this next track (45:27ish) is that I was going to trash the parts completely. It's pretty much entirely made of loops I'd deemed "excess" and failed attempts at writing something useful the night before the show. (I'm kind of hard on myself, I know!) Turns out the bassline's kind of groovy, and the audience really reacted to this track. I'm working on making it a standalone.

The last track is "Don't Turn It Off," a cover the 40 Thieves and I did of this old UK disco band, Hot Chocolate. Our version came out about a year ago on Permanent Vacation, and it's still gaining traction, having shown up on a Ministry of Sound compilation at the start of the summer. Brennan Green did a remix with an nice acid line that came out on his label Chinatown recently, and Greg Wilson made an extended edit with parts we sent him that I'd just gotten. I used Greg's version for this, just made an instrumental edit before the show. I threw a little housey loop over the top to give it a shuffle, since it's a bit fast. The vocals are not my finest, but I was all nervous after not knowing what went wrong during "Sweat." I kind of ducked down behind the booth and cupped the mic in a weird way, trying to shelter it from feedback, and the levels were off, so I couldn't sing as softly as I'd have liked. Anyway, it is what it is! Time to practice singing more!

Ha, the end! "Ta-da!" I'm such a dork. I was really touched by the sincere support and sheer number of people that came out to see what I'd done, and I was so relieved to have DONE IT. I was a bit overwhelmed, and you can hear it in my voice. It's touching to me still!

All in all, making this set was totally nerve-wracking, but playing it was absolutely thrilling, and I am so happy to have made the step in this direction after ten years of DJing and various collaborations. I'm excited to learn from my mistakes, and make my live performance more and more entertaining for you and expressive of the Qzen sound, whatever that turns out to be!

4 Comments:

Blogger Layne said...

:*

10:16 AM  
Blogger Mumm-Ra Marmon said...

really impressive! congrats!

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Le K said...

Queen of SF, great work!

7:15 AM  
Anonymous xl pharmacy said...

Excellent review. It is quite long but it is quite good thanks for the recommendation. I will give it a try.

2:54 PM  

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