Archive for the ‘collaboration’ Category

My trip to Burning Man 2015, sonically, via Coney Island’s great Dreamland fire of 1911

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Paul Belger of Flux Foundation, an art collective based out of San Fransisco that builds large scale public art, invited me to be a part of an interesting project for Burning Man 2015. Flux was building an interactive art piece inspired by Coney Island’s historic Dreamland amusement park that tragically burned down in a colossal fire in 1911. The Flux team wanted me to create music/sound for the experience. The project had many aspects which I enjoyed: sound design, location recording, incorporating found sounds, and historical research, so I gladly accepted the offer.

Dreamland, along with Steeplechase Park and Luna Park, was one of the original iconic theme parks of Coney Island from the beginning of the 20th century. It was built in 1904 and was designed to be bigger and grander than neighboring Luna Park. It had a tall central tower, a railway that travelled thru a Swiss alpine landscape, gandolas on a Venetian canal, lion tamers, side shows and thrill rides.






In the beginning of the 1911 season while preparation work was being done late at night, there was an electrical malfunction. In the ensuing darkness, a worker who was calking a leak spilled a bucket of hot pitch which started a fire. All of the buildings were made of highly flammable material and the fire spread quickly thru the park. Unfortunately the near by high pressure water pumping station malfunctioned and by morning the park was totally destroyed.



The theme of Flux’s Dreamland is wonder, carnivals, childhood rides, and memories of the past. The installation consists of a central spire reminiscent of a spinning carnival ride along with other surrounding sculptures which have lighting, flame, and sound effects. These effects are controlled by the spinning of the central spire which onlookers are encouraged to do.






On reflecting on what kind music/sound I was going to produce I knew that traditional “music” wouldn’t be appropriate. The pacing of regular music wouldn’t have worked because the sound had to go on for hours and hours. I also wanted the sound not to be intrusive to the experience and be more of a background element. I decided an ambient soundscape that slowly revealed different evocative sounds from carnivals, the past etc., was the way to go….

I veered away from the more obvious childlike, dreamy carnival sounds and went toward something more ominous and darker, possibly foreshadowing the fire. The team at Flux agreed that it was a good creative direction. I produced five different pieces ranging from 30 to 60 minutes each with low pulsing drones, static, and vinyl crackle, along with recordings of carrousels, carnival music, barkers, rides and crowds that I captured on location at Coney Island (The historic Cyclone roller coaster included!). It was rewarding to incorporate authentic sounds from the actual location the sculpture was inspired by.

Here’s a video of Dreamland when the carousel section of my piece was playing:


Here’s a video of when a more ethereal section was playing, incorporating music box piano, roller coster sounds, crowd, and dreamy/hazy ambient sounds:


It was a great project all around and I was grateful to be a part of it, thank you Paul!

On a side note, the historic Coney Island B&B carousel, built there in 1906, has been recently refurbished and has a beautiful German-made Gebruder Bruder organ. Turned out it wasn’t working the day I went there, which I only realized after I paid for the ride, sat on a carriage, and turned on my recorder. The carousel music I was recording was coming from a CD playing thru speakers and not the organ I was looking at!

I was determined to get a real carousel organ “on tape” so I went to Brooklyn Bridge Park which houses Jane’s Carousel, a 1922 carousel made built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and originally located in Youngstown Ohio. I got some great recordings of that organ, from on and off that carousel, which ended up in my Dreamland pieces at Burning Man 2015.

Collaborating with Eddie Tadross Part 2

Friday, April 12th, 2013

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.

“As Long”:



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”.

Here’s the new version of “I Never Knew”:



Here’s the previous version:



Collaborating with singer/songwriter Eddie Tadross

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

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:



Eddie, it’s been a pleasure so far!