Monday, January 28, 2013

The Mechanicals: Technical Commentary

Here's some technical commentary on the tracks from The Mechanicals e.p.:

The Mechanicals (Part 1)
Written to accompany a scene in a devastated spaceship. I started with the percussion: a hand-clap recorded in an old concrete loading bay (see this post) and a piece of 2.5" steel pipe being struck. The former was pitch-shifted an octave lower. Some minimal piano added bass to the track, and from there I added several layers of synthesizer. The bulk of the sounds were created on the Novation K-Station and feature two oscillators ring-modulated against each other. This is best illustrated by the deep bass sound with a wobble to it, and some of the sounds on the bridge section. The K-Station is also responsible for the white-noise percussion elements. A second bass sound, with a delay effect, was provided by the Arturia Minimoog V. The string sound with the rising attack and slow decay was made on the Roland HS-60, which seems well-suited to producing this kind of sound. The rest of the robotic and percussive sounds are sampled from a modified VTech Talking Whiz Kid, and modified PSS-140 keyboard. This kind of minimal electronic piece was something of a departure for me, and I'd like to write more in this vein.

The Mechanicals (Part 2)

I took an aborted bridge section from Part 1, built on it, and this is the result. I also wanted to illustrate the mechanicals concept lyrically. Since I didn't have to worry about clashing with dialogue, I filled up a lot more space in the mix. The Minimoog V makes a return, playing a different melody, and the K-Station provides most of the other synthesizer parts, including bass and lead sounds. The HS-60 adds a much subtler string sound: the best place to hear it is during the first break, accompanying the choir. EastWest Orchestra provides the choir, backing up three layers of my own voice saturated with reverb. My vocals on the verses are both raw and fed through the K-Station's vocoder. Singing backup is the AnalogX SayIt speech synthesizer, both untreated and fed through a granular plugin called Tweakbench Pudding. On the bridge section are several layers of my voice through the Roland SP-404's ring modulator effect. Modified Speak & Spell and Talking Whiz Kid samples can be heard as percussion and melodic elements throughout. As I wrote this 'on spec,' I was very pleased that parts of it were used in Stevie's Doctor Who production.

Insufficient Data
Written to accompany a scene in an abandoned technological structure on an alien planet. My initial concept was to base the track around humming electricity. To that end, I created a sound on the HS-60 not unlike the 60hz hum made by unshielded equipment plugged into 110volt mains voltage. Several attempts were made to find a suitable accompanying melody before the three-note piano motif and square-wave answering melody (courtesy of the K-Station) presented themselves. I intended to keep the track minimal, but during a percussion session in Fruity Loops I threw all sorts of rhythm elements into the mix that changed the whole feel of the track. These were mostly sourced from the modified Speak & Spell. A few Whiz Kid samples provide some eerie atmosphere on the intro, which I liken to the sounds of ages-old computers running forgotten programs for untold millenia. The timpani/kettle drum is from EastWest Orchestra, and the bass drum (with reverse reverb) is an old staple created on the K-Station. This ended up even more 'outside the box' than Mechanicals Part 1, and I'm very happy with it.

The Mechanicals (Part 2) [End Of The World Mix]

My friend Jimmy 'Jamz' Aaron sent me a rough remix of Mechanicals Part 2 he made by setting it to a new drum and rhythm track. This prompted a collaboration to produce it properly. I took out a lot of the original parts to give his heavier percussion more space. On the 21st of December (Apocalypse Day) I was inspired to add some entirely new synthesizer parts. The repeating melody that comes in under the verse was the first. It clashed somewhat with the original lead line, so I dropped the latter completely. In one of those serendipitous moments, a new lead presented itself and gelled immediately. Some resonant stabs from the HS-60 and some extra percussion elements from Jimmy's camp finished the track off. The entire remix was completed in four days, and both of us were thrilled with the result.