June 23, 2014

floats on air...

by Chris Randall

Well, it's finally done. floats on air, my new album of electronic meanderings, is now available on Bandcamp. It will be exclusive to that site until July 7th, where it will go live on all the other services.

This is my first "produced" album in some years; my last five-odd releases are EP-sized collections of various experiments and research, but floats on air is a cohesive whole, planned that way from the start. Since this is Analog Industries, a few process notes for those interested in that sort of thing (which is, I assume, most everyone that reads this site.)

1. Shoeboxen. For most (but not all) of the tracks on this album, the root rhythm comes from a rather strange source. I initially purchased a small shoebox tapedeck with the intent of finding something interesting to do with it, but not having an idea exactly what. What I ended up doing was using its little included mic to just record random semi-rhythmic sounds around my neighborhood, then taking the recordings, physically cutting out small lengths, and looping them in a different cassette body. I'd then record these short loops in to Live, and have my way with them with the various DSP tools that came to hand. The tracks sunderverl and fader in have the most obvious pieces of this sort of thing, but almost every track has at least two of these little loops in it. Once you know what you're listening for, they're easy to pick out.

2. Nagra. I used the Nagra a lot on some of the tracks. fader in has the best example. I asked Don Gunn to send me a few minutes of jazzy drumming; once I'd received his mixed stem, I summed it to mono, then recorded it to the Nagra. I then spent an hour or so slicing out half-measure chunks. (And I mean with a razor blade.) I then took these chunks, mixed them up, and spliced them all back together. I then made a continuous loop of the result. There are 4 other tracks in all in that song, and each one is a looped cassette. I fed them all in to Live on individual tracks simultaneously, and recorded the level automation on the way in with a Korg nanoKontrol. So fader in is named what it is: a live recording of tape loops that I "performed" on a nanoKontrol. I obviously added enough insert effects to stun an ox, for the final result. Most of the cassette loops are recordings (again, with the little mic that came with the shoebox deck) of the speakers in my living room system as I played Daphne Oram vinyl. Those of you that follow me on Twitter may have seen my synth -> tape -> vinyl -> tape -> synth palindrome tweet. This track is what I was referring to.

3. Modules. I don't have a hugely high opinion of the modular synth in my own particular writing process, but I figured "fuck it, the damn thing is sitting here." One of the little leitmotifs I use throughout the album to tie all the songs together is a little acid line breakdown, and I used the modular for this in all cases. It appears here and there elsewhere, but that was its main task in this project.

4. Other Gear. I used the Analog Four quite a bit. Notably in porch_field, where it creates most of the sounds. I also used [redacted] quite a bit, for about half the basslines. The other main synth I used was Monark, which got a lot of mileage on this album. For effects, VallhallaVintageVerb is the two-buss verb throughout the album, with occasional appearances by Eos as an insert "effect" verb; delay is about equal parts Dubstation and the H3000 Factory from Eventide. I used several other Eventide products for insert and compressor duties; most of the sidechain pumping (and fuck it, but there's quite a bit. There's no zealot like a convert!) is done with Glue. Obviously, heavy use of AD products throughout. I mixed 8 of the 9 tracks in Live 9 Suite; the exception is dawn, which was mixed in Bitwig Studio.

Anyhow, I'll field any specific production questions you might have in this thread, but the above is the general gist of things.


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Jun.23.2014 @ 7:48 PM
So would you consider Bitwig valid for most DAW duties at this point?
I ask because I'm getting to the point where I need to spring for the latest Live upgrade, or jump ship if I'm going to.

Jun.23.2014 @ 7:53 PM
Chris Randall
Well. There's some bummers about it. Notably, it is 32-bit. I thought we were past all that, but apparently not. It's fine otherwise. A couple little bugs here and there, but no deal-breakers.


Jun.24.2014 @ 12:36 AM
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts re your own comment of MW:

"your song either has an awesome hook and people want to hear it, or it doesn't, and they don't, and no amount of studio trickery will change this fact"

Not (completely at least) being a wanker, just asking how that comment is reflected in your own work?

Jun.24.2014 @ 7:11 AM
Chris Randall
I don't have any thoughts on it one way or the other. It's a fact, not a grey area. The bigger, more obvious, and more memorable the hook (whether it is some ridiculous Lumineers singalong chorus or the 1 measure synth lead in "She Blinded Me With Science") the more the herd will gravitate towards it.

I obviously don't bother with that. I made my point some years ago, with the platinum records hanging on the wall to prove it; I'm not terribly concerned with whether people buy my music or listen to it any more. I make it for me, and to experiment.

So, to answer your question directly, it is not.


Jun.24.2014 @ 10:42 AM
When is [redacted] likely to make an appearance in the AD lineup?


Jun.24.2014 @ 11:21 AM
Awesome that you detailed this - pretty much answered all of my questions. Short of sitting in on a mix, anyhow... (I like watching people mix - it's cool to see how different ears approach mix decisions.) Beautiful sounding album - thoroughly enjoying it.

Jun.24.2014 @ 3:03 PM
Your new album is really enjoyable. I particularly like that you're not scared to let the music breathe; I enjoy great use of space, something far too many electronic musicians are terrified of having in their tracks. Also your implementation of field recordings adds to the music without being intrusive. Oddly, I couldn't get the Star Trek "beaming up" sound out of my mind while listening to "Fader In", and I'm not even a trekkie. Nice work.

Jun.24.2014 @ 6:11 PM
I wanna know what the main percussion sound is on byszwald. I'd give you a better descriptor, but I don't have one except to reference Bucephalus Bouncing Ball, as that's the most popular song I know of that uses a similar(but more high pitched) timbre.

Jun.24.2014 @ 6:25 PM
Chris Randall
I assume you're referring to that little hit at the turn-around of every 2 measures? That's a little modular synth hit (if memory serves me, the Harvestman Polyvox filter self-resonating) through the DubJr module. I can't remember the exact patch, but that's what it sounds like, and that's something I would have done.

(Note: there's actually a YouTube video of me working on this track, laying down the Synergy part. Much earlier iteration, obviously, from some months ago. link [www.youtube.com] )


Jun.25.2014 @ 2:03 AM
erm... you were cutting short bits of cassette tape!

I've tried that, it's really fiddly work. Dyu have any tricks, tips or tools for that work?

Coz it was driving my nuts

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