June 5, 2011

The Three Hour Challenge...

by Chris Randall

My wife is a good sport about my noise-making habits, bless her heart, but she draws the line at cranked tube amps. For extra bonus points, we both work at home. This being the case, my guitar playing usually goes via NI Guitar Rig, which is nice and all, but can't really compete with my '67 Guild Thunder I Reverb.

Today, however, she went to a birthday party for one of her friends, and I had three hours of me time. I decided to set myself a challenge to write, perform, and mix a track in those three hours that I could make all the noise I wanted. For an IDM track, this would be easy enough. Load up some samples, set Replicant to "stun," and render. But I decided that this particular song was going to have guitar and vocals.

Now, in candor, this wasn't from bare metal. I spent the better part of the day getting the sounds together. I used my general Micronaut "experiments" rig for the backbone. The kick drum is coming from the DSI TETR4 to Eventide TimeFactor, that first snare-ish sound you hear is the MeeBlip running through my circuit-bent Boss 'verb, and the bass noink thing is the MS20. I also had to bust out My First Piano with a piezo for a little special sauce. All recorded in to Live through my utilitarian TASCAM USB interface, which I consistently wish had more outputs for FX sends. TASCAM seems morally opposed to making an interface with more than 4 analog outputs, though, so I abide.

Since I'm not only a southpaw playing right-hand guitar, but not an especially gifted guitarist in the first place, it takes a lot of practice time to be able to play and sing at the same time; I have to memorize hand positions per word. Since time wasn't a commodity I was blessed with, I used Live's Looper plugin to grab an 8-measure rhythm part, and then just vamp over the top of that at the end. The guitar, a Harmony Stratotone with Airline badging, is running through a Realistic Electronic Reverb (which is an excellent distortion box) to a Maleko B:Assmaster, to a compressor of my own design based upon the Orange Squeezer, then in to the amp.

For the vocals, I wrote down a couple phrases, and had a general idea of what I was gonna do, but largely ad-libbed it. Ain't gonna give "A Day In The Life" a run for its money any time soon. The vocal chain is DMG Compassion -> Kombinat, with a touch of Dubstation on the ass end. Compassion is also on the drum buss, the guitar, and the 2-buss. Love that plug.

Anyhow, it was fun to do. As far as setting intentional limits for yourself, the short-span-of-time one is the most unforgiving, and the one most likely to be cast aside. But it can be refreshing. The hardest part is showing it off afterwards, because it will never be the best you can do. Any other takers for the 3 Hour Challenge?


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Jun.05.2011 @ 3:07 AM
Cutter Filtoff
Badass! All this three hour nonsense reminds me of your slave driver work ethic in the studio, which I hope rubbed off on me a bit. Funny enough, I do have a 3 hour track I just finished in preparation for the laser harps public debut at harmony fest ;)
It's also my first track I feel comfortable using the "skwee" genre identifier for all intents and purposes :/
Blame the swedes.

Jun.05.2011 @ 3:45 AM
I think yer missin' an "e" on yer "skweee"...

This is where the kids would say lulz, I think.

Anyway, nicely done Chris. Time constraints usually don't come into play for me except when I'm doing RPM challenge. When my wife's away, I usually take the time to play my Merzbow records at high volume. The wife usually frowns on excessively loud noise music in the house, and the kid won't stand for it at all.

However, I did just buy a Vox Pathfinder 15R and a couple of pedals. Been hearing a lot of shoegaze guitar work on top of heavily distorted boom bap hip hop beats in my head. Decided to see if that is in reality a horrible thing or an awesomely wonderful thing.

I guess I should also take some time to learn how to play guitar. I can do that in 3 hours, right?


Jun.05.2011 @ 5:58 AM
This sounds great and you sing pretty good too. I don't know much about microphones but it seems to catch voices good. And all this done in 3 hours? Well done.

I and my girlfriend share the same office at home so I always have to use headphones but even me wearing those causes some arguments sometimes. I have mentioned earlier that I'm forbidden to buy more music related gear for a year so I have dusted off some of my old hardware - one of them being an Emu e64. That one generates some serious noises just turning it on. Actually, I can hardly hear what I'm producing and my girlfriend absolutely hates it. I can only use it when she's away or at least not in the same room.

Jun.05.2011 @ 8:47 AM
Mike Nickel
Good job sir. Any chance of a download link?

Jun.05.2011 @ 9:51 AM
Very nice, Chris. A friend and I try every few months to schedule a shared "day off" and we participate in a 20 song game (inspired by the book, "The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook" - link [www.amazon.com] ). We each, in our own studios, shut off the world from 8AM to 8PM, and then get together that evening to see what we've come up with.

I've never come up with 20 songs in a twelve hour period, but getting five or 10 or 12 new pieces of music that are then shared at the end of the day always feels like a rather massive accomplishment, particularly if I've been feeling creatively dry or so busy that I haven't had time to write.

Your 3hr Challenge sounds like a good variation on that idea.

Jun.05.2011 @ 11:31 AM
beauty pill
Awww, yeah! Inspiring/intimidating. I like your spirit. You're alright in my book, Chris. Also, the guitar sounds great.

As is well-documented on this blog, I have spent the last few years messing around in a hall of mirrors of my own making. Such is my sovereign right as the King Of The 80% Complete Song. Bow now before me!

I'm about to do an unusual commissioned project in July where my band is going to be recording as a public exhibit in a museum here in DC. People will be allowed to peer through glass and watch us work for a couple of weeks. We're thinking about allowing people to come into the room if it doesn't get too crazy.

What will we be doing? Turning the 80% complete songs into 100% complete songs. And hopefully just focusing on the work and ignoring the onlookers in the process. We're not performing for an audience, as it were. It won't be like a concert at all. We're just a regular band going about making an album, overdubbing, arguing, having lunch... just with the added feature that we're in a museum and people can see us.

Among other big changes, this means my reign as the King Of The 80% Complete Song is drawing to an end. It also means the anonymity/low profile I've enjoyed while messing around with dogbowls and Reaktor while sitting in parks, etc. is drawing to a close. And you will hear me talking about this on NPR "All Things Considered" soon, because the producer there is a very big fan, which is something I don't feel I deserve, but am grateful for.

Mainly, the plan is to move quickly. My band is good at this, I think. They're musical people, good instincts. We will take each day to learn the song and shape it into a final arrangement. Some songs they know well because they've been 80% complete for years. Others will be wholly new. We're going to do one song a day this way, maybe more if we can manage it.

So what I'm saying is this is a well-timed post for me, 'cause it reminds that IMMEDIACY = INTIMACY. You would think I'd have learned that by now, being on a label owned by Ian MacKaye.

Anyway, that tenet is the premise of the way we'll work in July. We'll see how it goes. It could be a hilarious, public failure. Or it could be a really cool experience. I have no idea.

- c

Jun.05.2011 @ 11:42 AM
Chris Randall
Now, I'm pretty open about my processes and such, and have no problem letting it hang out there for summary judgement, but I think that'd be a bit too much even for me. Godspeed, young man. Godspeed.


Jun.05.2011 @ 11:50 AM
beauty pill
Well, one working title for the project was "Beauty Pill: Wholly Ill-Advised." :)

The project's actual title is "Immersive Ideal" (a term I learned while reading about artificial intelligence. I liked the way the two words felt together).

We will exhibit the finished work in November/December as a surround-sound installation with photos, etc. (And there will be a regular stereo album release, around that time as well.)

It will be like being in a zoo, I imagine. Or a construction site.

Or a construction zite with zoo animals running free, more likely...

- c

Jun.05.2011 @ 12:38 PM
@ beauty pill - "...my band is going to be recording as a public exhibit in a museum here in DC.", "And hopefully just focusing on the work and ignoring the onlookers in the process. We're not performing for an audience, as it were. It won't be like a concert at all. We're just a regular band going about making an album, overdubbing, arguing, having lunch... just with the added feature that we're in a museum and people can see us."

What is that thing about "being observed changes that which is observed"? It will. Maybe for the better... maybe not. But it will be different.

I experience this often. Which is why I like working alone for some parts of the recording process... and knowing I won't be interrupted during the creative process. I feel like that's when I get the purest form of creativity.

Of course, there's always being observed in a live performance, or observed during the creative process while working with other artists, or even observed by the happenings of everday life going on around you... when it's aware of your creative process going on... and when it's not. Which I also think sparks creativity. But it's different kinds of creativity for each situation.

Jun.05.2011 @ 12:44 PM
Chris Randall
Javahut brings up a good point. You should have called the project "Heisenberg."


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