Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Broken Marching Band was the inspiration for the album title (Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band), so this song is somewhat representative of the album as a whole, but perhaps even more so of the concept behind the title. The unifying idea for the album, and distilled in this song, is a sense of taking a bunch of instruments and throwing them on the floor and then coaxing melodies and sounds out of them; shattering something in order to find what was lurking underneath the “proper” way of using it. This is a central idea to much of the music I’ve done: taking melodies apart to find harmonics that can then be used to create new melodies, tossing objects around and against each other to see what happens. This is my way of finding sounds that didn’t exist otherwise, which only happened for that instant, and couldn’t have necessarily been planned. If you know that you want the sound of a snare drum then you record something that resembles a snare drum, but if you don’t know what kind of sound you want or what characteristics it will have, then making things happen in a random way is a good way of finding what you didn’t know you were looking for. This is how I approach music much of the time.

Once the individual sounds and melodic fragments exist, it’s about finding a way to string these sounds and pieces together into something resembling a definition of “music.” I often feel like I make a song because it’s the only way to translate a moment I really want people to hear into something that people might actually listen to. I would imagine it’s akin to a director that has a specific scene in his/her head and just wants to express that, so a film is built around it to make it presentable to a larger number of people.

For this song (and album) I used only sounds that began in the physical world outside electronics. This means that all the percussion, atmospheric and incidental sounds came from recordings of objects or street noise or some other field recording, and the horn melodies stemmed from one recorded trumpet sound that I mapped to the virtual keyboard and used to make different melodic fragments to work with. I began with some simple melodic ideas and then broke them up, stretching them out and passing them through some light effects to see what I could get those individual chords to do. I knew what I was aiming for in terms of mood and direction, but on a localized level I embraced what sound could come out of these initial ideas and how I could layer different pieces of them into a more affective scenario. I processed and edited fragments in order to work on slightly larger pieces to arrange around each other, but often, new fragments came out of this, and then the process started all over. I love those instances when a song can seem like it’s shaping up in a certain way, and then there’s this slight sound that you didn’t hear before, which catches your attention and changes the perspective of what will be highlighted in the song, or how it will be arranged or how it will resolve itself. This is a large part of how I work. I know exactly what I want to hear once I hear it, but until that point I am merely making attempts at finding it.

Rhythmically, I am working off of techno as a backdrop, but as just a backdrop rather than a driving force. In this track, I wanted to have sort of a marching type of rhythm within this bumpy techno-ish frame. It’s fairly repetitive, with subtle changes here and there, as the glue of everything, allowing other sounds to stray because they have this object at the center which chugs along, just like this symbolic, imaginary band at the heart of it. I like working on details and incidents within an overall rhythm track. I enjoy the sounds that don’t seem to have a specific reason for being there and don’t seem to follow an overarching pattern as a whole, while following their own internal logic, having a specific place and purpose once you delve further into a piece. In this track there are a bunch of sounds from wooden blocks knocking together and a few percussion hits that came out of the field recordings used in the background. These aren’t part of the core groove, but are an important part of the peripheral to that core – the elements which allow that rhythmic mainstay to be so directional and not attempt to do too much. I love loopiness with an amount of sonic outliers to that loopiness, which allow it to function as it does.

Two of the main sounds used in the atmosphere of the song are the sound of water lapping against a river wall, which I recorded through a grate I was standing on at the Hudson River on the west side promenade in NYC, and the sounds of children playing in the street. These playing sounds I got from my friend Thomas Hildebrand. He recorded them from outside his window, in the alley between his apartment building and the adjacent one. I found certain aspects of the sounds fascinating and edited out those parts. I can hear someone groaning when they read the words “children playing,” but there were some amazing moments in the recording. There was a lot of image-provoking material in there with the echoes and the metal fences and the concrete street. I’m excited by the sound of the container, and what is happening inside that container, and how that can interact with instrumental sources. The sound of the environment they were in and how that interacted with the human element was what I wanted to use, so I pitched everything down, making the child’s voices less recognizable, or at least less child-like, bringing them into a different context, or a less reality-based one at any rate. I’m not super interested in bringing reality into my music, but rather an observation of reality. I’m more interested in stylized perception than strict translation, giving it some distance from its origin without losing sight of that origin. I hope this allows the listener to ascribe what they perceive without the constraints of my individual interpretation. I want to bring out the poetic aspects of sound that are right there, but sometimes require a different focus (or lack of focus) to rise to the surface. I try to use this in order to create a contrast that can make warm melodies warmer and disorienting sounds more disorienting, while attempting to make both more listenable because of the ways in which they relate to each other.

Broken Marching Band
wants to exist in a crevice between warm and melancholic and dark; pretty, but not too pretty, heartfelt, but layered and more emotionally complicated than that. Though I seemingly have broken down different components of the track here, the most important component is how they work together: the rhythmic elements of melody, the melodic aspects of rhythm and the unifying abilities of atmosphere and texture. This track is a fairly good representation of a lot of my songs, with loop-based, but constantly shifting patterns and pieces stitched together to form less of a progression in some classic or pop-inclined sense than one which makes sense for the song at hand. All my choices have to do with details that fit in the context of what comes before and after that detail. This seems kind of obvious, but my point is that I don’t have any more than an extremely general sense of what a song will be before I get deep into it. All the twists and turns come out of simply working on a piece. The space of the track shapes itself as the work happens, fitting pieces together, finding what passage makes most sense with what other passage. I used to dislike thinking of my music as experimental, because that denoted a sense of “let’s try something out and whatever happens, happens,” which feels too detached for me. Yet, this is a large part of my approach to music: trial and error and observation. It’s not detached, but rather carefully arranged with a sense of “I don’t know what will come out of this until I try a bunch of experiments with a group of sounds.” Only then can I produce the results from which I can choose moments that resonate with me, and turn those moments into a larger statement.


Blogger Mr. B said...

After getting the album, this was great to read---it's always nice to see an artist who is equally adept at making art as he/she is at communicating the ideas behind the processes.

1:36 PM  

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