A recording, some delay

17 October 2021

I used to do a lot more music. I haven't recorded music in years. I suppose I have now? You be the judge.

For those who for some reason would like to know more...

I went into a lot of detail here, which definitely will come across as what it obviously comes across as. But, listening back to the songs I recorded in the past, I don't remember much about my intent or frame of mind, which I regret, so I'm writing it for the record. So, know that I know how this seems, and if you aren't here for that, ignore me!

I was watching the new documentary about The Velvet Underground, a band I've listened in the past but never on repeat for months, like Carly Rae Jepsen, or Queen or The Darkness before her. There was discussion of drone music by La Monte Young, one of the leading minimalist/ambient/drone/experimental musicians of that era, and a lot of what they were saying reminded me of the kind of music I sometimes made, when I used to do that sort of thing. I felt inspired.

I was noodling on my guitar along with the tunes of the documentary, and I guess I had been thinking about the kinds of generative systems I used to study and use as a student at Goldsmiths. I was particularly into the kind of tape loops systems that Brian Eno used in Music for Airports, which I did before in a previous recording.

I had a bit of a notion of rather than using predefined loops, I'd add playheads to one longer recording, the flexibility being that I could add and remove more playheads dynamically, affect each playback rate independently, and use that to reveal variations in an acoustic performance, played without a metronome. I find it really difficult to keep notes consistently at a stable timbre and velocity on guitar, and my timing without a drum track to play against is pretty poor, so I thought that I'd maybe find something interesting as a base of a new system.

Having just been learning more about La Monte Young (last time I looked, I found next to nothing about him, other than his appearance in The Rest Is Noise, by Alex Ross (which also covered The Velvet Underground), but now he's on bandcamp), I was thinking about drones, and decided that playing one note over and over again was enough of a drone for me.

I DI'd my acoustic guitar, turned on my speakers, and record-armed that track, as well as my SM7B for room sound. I actually had both record-monitoring on my speakers, and wasn't getting feedback, and though that that might add to it, but in the end it turned out that I hadn't record-armed the SM7B, so ended up with just the DI acoustic. I played D flat octaves on the third and fifth strings for 12 minutes, trying to keep the tempo, timbre, and velocity as even as possible. I didn't pick D flat for any reason, it's just what I happened to land on. It occurred to me later that it's not a particularly convenient key for anything.

During the recording, I watched the clock in the bottom right of my computer monitor, and when my monitor turned off for inactivity, I watched the clock on my phone. I looked out of my apartment, at the lights of the outskirts to the south of Amsterdam, towards the enormous screen at the arena. Leaning back in my chair, I focused on hearing the sound in the room. The harmonics sounded like melodies, and I wanted to keep recording while my hands cramped and built callouses, so that I would have a base over which to add extra tracks to articulate what I was hearing in the harmonics, and patterns in the shifts in timbre and velocity.

Here's when I discovered that I had missed the SM7B track, which was a little annoying, but not a big problem.

I fully intended at this point to record more tracks to add to this. I started out by cranking up the recording (I had a lot of headroom) and looping the quiet at the start to identify and EQ out any hums, of which there was one. I wanted to get an early glimpse into what the multi-playhead scenario might sound like, so I dropped a simple delay into a return track, cranked the feedback up, and that's what you're hearing.

I suppose that at this point, it sounded interesting enough to me that I should avoid the temptation to spend a bunch more time on it during which I could start doubting it, or get bored of recording extra tracks that weren't achieveing what I hoped, or fall off writing the code for the multi-playhead thing.

Specifically what interested me was that I could hear patterns in the harmonics and rhythmic patterns from the delay that could be interesting. The kind of thing where I would like to go in and isolate snippets, take "melodies" I hear in the harmonics, and rhythm patterns, and reinterpret them with synths and drum machines. Maybe even superimpose them together somehow.

I'm quite used to playing guitar with delay, I'm a big fan of Brian May's work with line delays. In fact, one of my go-to noodling songs is Queen's Now I'm Here, which notably uses stacking delayed guitars in the intro. Brighton Rock Solo is another instance of that stacked effect, where you play in time with yourself. That's not what I'm doing here, I wasn't hearing the delay while playing. It's all in post. I wasn't able to keep myself in time that way. This means that as I rush and lag gradually throughout the recording, those variations in tempo interact with the constant-time delay to produce these "interesting patterns" I keep talking about.

It's been a very long time since I've felt creative in this way, and I like this feeling.

I'm a firm believer in that meaning is in the mind of the audience, so I won't venture too far into the kinds of things I think I'm trying to say with this, other than that perhaps I wouldn't have felt the need to put a 12 minute recoring of myself playing the same note on guitar over and over again in a world where the last 18 months didn't happen, with all that happened in them.

There's still plenty of stuff I wanted to try but didn't. I guess maybe after these 7 years of not doing music, I might have more stuff to try out some time. I have the dry and wet recordings, so there's plenty of opportunity to explore further.

I should definitely note that the ratio of time I have spent in my life listening to experimental music vs the time I've spent making is is firmly suggesting that I need to listen more, so if you have suggestions, ideally ones that come with explanations, please let me know!