Sidechaining is a production technique used extensively in the electronic/dance genres to control the amplitude of one sound(s) based on the amplitude of another at a given moment. It is commonly used to lower the level of the bass the instant the kick drum plays so that both sounds can be optimally blended and balanced in the mix. Often it is also applied to the entire mix to give the music a “pumping” feel. Beyond this the creative possibilities of sidechaining are endless.
In “Utter Code” sidechaining is used to “turn on” a vocal loop using a noise gate that is “listening” to the synth part. The moment the synth plays a note the vocal can be heard. In this way the synth and the vocal are dynamically connected in rhythm. Later on in the piece (1:13) a second vocal loop is introduced that is controlled in the same manner by a second synth line. The synth parts themselves where created using an algorithmic MIDI generation program called M by Cycling 74. The software dynamically creates a synth part by selecting from a pool of specified notes and rhythmic values. The vocal samples for on this track are recording outtakes of Eddie Tadross for another song we were working on.
In “Ad-lib Algorithm” (most clearly from 3:00 – 4:20) there are two pairings of instruments: synth A controls guitar A and synth B controls guitar B. The synth parts were created with M as mentioned above. The guitar parts were improvised separately without playing along to each other or to any synth part.
Beyond Ipanema, the feature length documentary about Brazilian music that I contributed music to has been made into a 13-episode series that had its debut January 2013 on Canal Brasil. My tracks from the documentary were used in the new series and I have the honor of “Percolating Bossa” being used as the show theme.
“Percolating Bossa” features a nylon string guitar hook that is transformed with modulated cutoff filters to create a playful electronic vibe on top of traditional samba percussion stylings. The second half introduces a flute/piano melody that takes the piece to the end:
Eddie and I finally finished writing and producing “As Long” as part of our three track project. The track ended up dark and moody in a cool cinematic way. We had an imaginary scene in mind while producing the track: a guy walking down a road while far behind him a city lay in ruins. Maybe a zombie apocalypse kind of thing. I’ve been seeing a lot of this kind of imagery in sci-fi/thriller/horror movie posters in the subway, specially ones using iconic New York City sites. I recently saw one showing a fallen Manhattan Bridge sitting on the bottom of a dried up East River. These ideas played into the feeling for this track.
The vocal production in “As Long” is interesting because the reverb and echo levels are constantly changing, almost word by word, for emphasis or embellishment. It’s something that you hear a lot these days in pop production, although in less extreme fashion. I also implemented a technique of using the main vocal to duck out the effects so that when the vocal is happening the effects are quiet but as soon as the vocal stops the effects jump to the foreground. This keeps the intelligibility of the words intact while filling the space between the vocal phrases with a deep ambience.
The track also has an interesting arrangement feature. The second chorus starts out with just vocals and mallets and then it slowly builds back up part by part with the guitar and bass being filtered in DJ mixer style.
After re-listening to the three tracks I decided that maybe
“I Never Knew” was a little too clunky and too repetitive rhythmically and harmonically. We wrestled again with the issue of how minimal can a track be while still having enough material to carry the listener thru the end. Having listened to it so many times we were running the risk of having lost creative perspective. So we really considered the track carefully before deciding that it did make sense to revisit it.
I improvised some new chords on guitar over the verse and came up with better chord changes. Only some minor vocal melody tweaks were needed to fit the new chords. I also added electric bass guitar which rounded out the track sonically and allowed me to implement some more chord movement which was missing from the original choruses. Now in hindsight I see that the choruses were always a bit too long to stay in one place harmonically.
The last thing I added was reversed harmonic guitar notes on top of the mallets. The motivation being to make the mallets different from the ones in “As Long”.
I’ve embarked on a collaboration with award winning singer/songwriter Eddie Tadross. We decided to create a few songs in different styles to see which might be a good match for us to do more of in the future. We played around with a few ideas until we settled on the three to develop. The first was a minimalist acoustic guitar and drums idea we eventually titled “I Never Knew”. The second was “Red Rose Blue”, an electro blues rock track that mixes modern DJ/remix-type production with a rough and ready bluesy garage rock sound (70/30 leaning to garage rock). The last, which is still a work-in-progress, is a moody electronica track that has melodic ideas and some lyrics but nothing finalized.
“I Never Knew” started with a few laid back acoustic guitar chords and a sparse kick and rim shot beat. The lyrics Eddie came up with are about a moment of clarity in which the “missing piece” of the singer’s thus far elusive happiness is realized. We were intent in keeping that “clarity” feeling in the musical arrangement as well. The challenge was to keep the track extra minimal but still have it sound “finished”. We hit many dead ends on how to achieve that balance. The existing material seemed to interconnect well but was too skeletal and was missing “vibe”. Also the song was needing a textural element that would “glue” together what was there as well as some more pulsing rhythmic elements to push it forward.
We struggled to find the right material to add without complicating the track. Eventually we stumbled upon adding vibraphone and celesta. These new layers were less intrusive than other material we tried. It’s almost as if we had our own moment of clarity like Eddie’s lyrics talked about. It took the song to a dreamier place emotionally but we decided it was good and went with it. The mallet arpeggios also helped lift the chorus and push the track forward. Here is “I Never Knew”:
“Red Rose Blue” came a lot easier and incorporated a happy accident that contributed greatly to the final version (more on this later). I had a partially completed blues rock instrumental with tons of attitude and some production tricks/hooks. The most obvious being the intro hook that is a paring of slide guitar glissando and a guitar sound “power down” (like a record being stopped by hand). Other sonic hooks had processed harmonica/saxes/synths blended together to blur reality and create strange and unique blues riffs.
Eddie’s lyric, melody, and chords worked right into it and also had many cool flairs. My favorite one being the lyric repetition in the verse where the music stops and the vocals get quieter and quieter and trails off (“Louisiana’s state line, Louisiana’s…”).
The vocal performance that Eddie delivered was great, but it only truly blended in with the track when we treated it with tape echo (nod to Elvis’ Sun recordings) and distortion to connect it with the saturated sound of the track.
The echo and distortion treatment itself was a happy accident. Eddie did two whole takes straight thru the song that sounded great but I realized after that I had set up the microphone backwards (!) and the recording quality was less than ideal because the more sensitive side of the mic was facing the opposite way! I didn’t want to re-record the vocals because the performances were so grabbing so after feeling dejected for a few minutes I started messing with different distortion/tape saturators to better the sound and realized it was just what the vocal needed in the first place, correct mic placement or not! Here’s “Red Rose Blue”:
Our work-in-progress electronic track has mallets (celesta, vibraphone, and marimba) similar to “I Never Knew” but with LFO filtered electric guitars, electric bass and electronic drums. It’s midtempo, introspective, mysterious and moody. Initally while Eddie was trying to come up with melody/lyric ideas I had the arrangement set up in a very expected verse/pre chorus/chorus format but it seemed to be stiffling creativity. Eddie suggested we make an arrangement with a less commercial format that followed more what the music wanted to do than how I thought it should go. After we did that the melodic/lyric material seemed to flow more easily. So, we’ll see how it goes…here’s the instrumental in it’s current form:
Producing music based on pre-existing recordings can be inspiring and great fun. But it can also be legally complicated and expensive (look up the legal troubles of the Beastie Boys, Biz Markie, Negativland, MC Hammer, Notorious B.I.G., and The Verve to name a few). In order to sidestep the legal issues of sampling, one can produce homegrown faux recordings of songs/bands that never existed and use them as “samples” for producing new tracks.
On a collaboration with singer/recording artist Javier Bernard, a fictitious disco record was created to sample for the track “Situation”. It wasn’t necessary to create an entire track to sample, just a main section with some variations and instrumental breakouts. The main section contained string, guitar, and bass parts. Drums were not included in the fictitious sample so they wouldn’t conflict with the new track’s drums parts. This underscores a benefit of this technique: you can really control the material to fit what you are working on.
After the section was composed/programmed authentic EQ, compression, and effects were employed to achieve the correct sonic vibe. Check out the audio of the main “sampled” section and variations. Then hear how it was used in “Situation” (albeit in a faster tempo).