I thought some of you might interested in the process of
creating this album. Every track on Cool Aberrations involved working with at
least one other collaborating musician.
acclimate (Jesse Cutler and Adam Blomberg on guitar, Jason Parmar on tabla)
Ironically this was the last song that I composed for this album, even though it is the first track. I felt that my last three albums had a harsh start to them, so I wanted to compose something gentle that would ease a listener into the album. I composed a simple, accessible song that had a happy feel to it.
I invited Jason over one day to play tabla on a number of different songs. His tracks ended up on almost every song he played on. He is a SERIOUSLY talented drummer. Then Jesse came over with some melodic ideas and lots of harmonics, and I weaved those parts in. Finally, I had Adam come over to complement Jesses lines and flush out the song.
Jesse and Adam are childhood friends, and they have been playing guitar together for as long as they have been able to. It's super cool to have them playing on a song together.
flow tater (Sarah Holzman on flute)
This was the first song I've written intentionally for another instrumentalist. I started out by composing the flute melody and harmony, and then adding some rhythm and bass to it. I then independently created a new section - the middle part ' using mostly the same synths I used to compose the first section. I like to think of it as my happy space. I then massaged the sections so that they transitioned smoothly ' a somewhat painful process as they have little musically in common. This is true for a lot of my songs ' I write the sections independently and then try to find ways that they can segue into each other.
I then needed to find a flutist. Stina had suggested that I ask Sarah. I knew she went to Oberlin and studied flute, so I figured she would do a decent job. Little did I know that she is a professional flutist ' she plays in groups and teaches full time. I told her that it would take 3 hours to record. An hour and a half later we were done, and you had to scrape my jaw off the floor. Hot damn. Sarah is an incredible flutist.
I learned that a sampler never runs out of breath, and thus is not always the best compositional tool. Notice that a lot of the flute notes in this song are really long. It is impossible to play the melody without taking breaths before notes, which would really change the feel. We had to record some of passages and notes individually, and then stitch them together in the software. This song sounds absolutely gorgeous, thanks to Sarah.
fugal (Stara, or Sarah Drew, on vocals)
This song wins most number of hours spent on a single track. This was one of the first tracks I had thought I had finished for the upcoming album. I wrote something that had a good melody, some interesting counter point, and nice evolving drum lines, but I didn't know it had not reached its full potential.
In April '06, I played at an event called SpectraBall, which was a huge celebration of ArtSFest, an organization that Stina (my wife) had been working at. I played before a band called Tropozone, which was a collective of 7 or 8 musicians creating lush improvised soundscapes. I was captivated by the lady who was singing, and felt I had finally found someone who I was actively interested in collaborating with for vocals tracks. I introduced myself, and proceeded to hound her down over the next couple weeks until I got her to come over and mess around in my studio. Sarah is a fascinating lady, who lives a life unlike anyone I have ever met. She is a teacher at heart, and her breadth of knowledge on an array of subjects is amazing.
I had her improvise vocal lines on top of this track. I then assembled those improvs until I built a pseudo chorus. I loved the way it sounded, though it was sonically and melodically all over the place. Once this direction was established, she came over for a series of somewhat grueling recording sessions, until the vocal tracks really took shape. There are 13 vocal tracks on the final song ' mixing these tracks to get a balanced vocal chorus was a tremendous amount of work. I'm seriously proud of this one. I also feel blessed by the friendship that has blossomed out of these musical sessions.
the grenabler (Sean Lehe on guitar, Anthony Rogers-Wright on bass)
This was a case of a somewhat bumpin song that needed a leg-up to reach its full potential.
Anthony is some one I met through a mutual friend. He's a totally sick bass player living in Southern Cali. One time when he came to visit the Bay Area, he brought he bass, and he came over for a session. I had originally slated him for 'reasonable ability', but when I put on this track, he just killed it. We ran the track like three times, and he gave me plenty of material to work with.
I thought it would be sweet to have a shredding guitar track on top of the bass track. One day I headed down to the Connecticut Yankee, cause I heard there was fun jam band that played on Thursdays. If you didn't know, I'm a live music junkie. Even though I write mostly in the electronic music space, much of the music I see lies in the Jam Band genre. That's where I saw Sean play, and the light bulb went off. So, I in my normal hounding down manner, I eventually cajoled Sean into the studio. Man, can this guy RIP. He played a couple times through the song, and then I carefully assembled my dream guitar solo. Again, I'm completely blessed by the new friendship that was born from this collaboration. Such a great guy.
reasonable ability (Sean Lehe on guitar)
I've been trying to push myself to compose music a little more outside of my comfort zone. This one started out of inspiration when I first tooled around with Absynth 3 (a virtual synth plug-in). Once I had the beginning loosely finished, I started composing new sections using the synths I had initially chosen for the beginning. Then I began knitting them together. Again, this is often how my songs are written.
I had Sean play on top of this song on our first session, but I couldn't figure out how to fit the parts together so they made sense. When I just fooling around one day, I found this startling guitar line. Then things started falling into place. I had him do more experimental melodic lines during our second session, and eventually it was all merged together to create this track.
cliff notes (Sean Lehe and Noah Reid on guitar, Jason Parmar on tabla)
This was an experiment to see if I could write a really short track that had depth and contrasting sections. I wasn't really going to pursue this song until Jason came over and laid down some serious tabla rhythms. That breathed new life into it. Then I had Sean play on top it while I looped the A section (the first minute). I carefully layered those tracks to be really thick and driving but still distinguishable. I then invited my friend Noah over to flush out the middle spacey section, and add some thunder to the end of the track.
I really made a conscious effort to try and write shorter tracks for this album. I feel that it was a big achievement to compose a 3 minute track with depth, bounce, and the signature general fuzz A/B transition.
baby steps (Jesse Cutler and Adam Blomberg on guitar)
This was the most complicated composition I've done in a while. It has 6 or 7 completely different sections in 6:30. I enjoyed the song, but after much deliberation had decided to cut it from album. When Jesse came over to work on "acclimate", I asked him to try playing on this track as well. Oh man, he had some good off the cuff ideas. When Adam came over to play on acclimate, I had him play on this track as well, muting out all of Jesse's parts. Then I had some serious fun, integrating all the different ideas into the song. Once I realized that I could do some Allman Brother's style guitar play at the begining of the track, I started to try and make this song really work with the guitar tracks. I assembled a cool ending for Jesse's guitar (tweaking the hell out of it using elodyne), and had Adam play over it, actually listening to Jesse's part this time around. I decided the track was interesting enough at this point to include on the album.
cream (Peter Medland on trumpet)
I wrote this song with a melody that was intended for a wind instrument. I thought trumpet might sound good, but I didn't know any trumpet players. After asking around, it was pretty clear that I would have to hire a studio musician for this one. Through the website kvraudio.com, I met a Canadian trumpet player who highly recommended Peter from trumpetracks.com. Since I had already had some success with internet collaboration on 'accoustic junction', I thought it might be fun to work with Peter in the UK. So I sent him the transcription, and he sent me his first take. I installed Skype, and we communicate about how the track should be played. He's playing his trumpet across the world through his microphone. Too cool. Once again, I did not take in consideration that the high register that the notes were in is very difficult to play on a trumpet. We go back and forth a couple iterations, and bam, we're done.
Of note ' this is the only solo I've ever used in a general fuzz track as is. Normally I assemble a solo so it sounds the way I want it to. He put a lot of thought and care into that take ' and it was perfect.
summer (Stara on vocals, Jason Parmar on tabla)
I was consciously trying to write a song that had an addictive, but incredibly simple melody. This song evolved from those first notes that start the track. I wanted to try to compose some vocal melodies that Stara could sing. Of course, I didn't take into consideration things like 'range' and 'breath'.
We started working on this song in tandem with fugal. I had some ideas to record, and she did some reactionary singing. We eventually honed it into something precise, and that's what on the track. This song called 'summer' because Sarah mentioned that the track reminded her of a beautiful summer day.
Notice the drum beat flip in the clip.
reflective moment (Steve Sparapani on cello)
This song was an attempt to write a something really stripped back ' a simple, beautiful melody, not much else going on to distract the from the melody. It has an A, B, and C section to it, and goes A-B-A-B-C. I had initially slated having a violin play a counter melody, but then decided to leave the melody as is and have a cello complement the melody line to add some emotional depth to the song. Luckily, I knew cello Steve. I composed and transcribed the cello sections, and once again learned that a sampler does not reflect what's possible for the actual instrument. Lots of really long sustained notes is not easy to play on a cello. We ended up having to record sections and stitch them together.
accoustic junction (Adam Blomberg on guitar)
Ironically the last track on the album, this was the first track I finished. It was really fun to make. I started by writing a couple measures of a song on a piano. On a whim, I emailed the track to Adam, who created two additional guitar tracks and emailed them back to me. I then listened to the guitar tracks with out the piano, and wrote something new and sent it to him. After a couple of iterations of this, I assembled the parts into a semblance of a song, and started flushing it out a bit. I then sent this to Adam, who in turn flushed out the guitar tracks. We only got together in my studio once to work on this track ' at the very end, to put the final touches on it.
The Art (Nemo at nemo.org)
I've always wanted to work with Nemo. I've been in awe of his art for quite some time now. Every time I release a new album, the productions values goes up. Last one was a jewel case, this one is a 3 panel digi-pak. I thought he should design something in a grand scale that would span the three panels. The big decision I made was to forgo the track listing and the spine so that it would be one big piece of art when unfolded, like a mini-poster. Nemo came up with this great concept that there would be an alien planet where the aliens (now called duders) would assemble this beautiful flower butterfly creature with a crystal in it (representing my music). The duders would then launch these creatures into outer space, and they would fly through out the universe. Some of them would make their way to earth. It was an elaborate and absolutely gorgeous design. He has been an absolute treat to work with ' his artistic and design skills are awe inspiring. Go cruise around his website and check out some of the prints and posters he's created. Then buy some :)
All songs were composed on Ableton Live 5.
VSTs used: Absynth 3, B4 II, Cameleon5000, CamelPhat3, CamelSpace, GURU, MicoTonic, Melodyne, Mr Tramp, Mr Ray, Pentagon I, Slayer2, Sonic Synth 2, SuperCamelPhat2, Tau2, Wusikstation, Vanguard, Stylus RMX, and Z3ta+
Self mastered using Ozone 3.
Sean Lehe: www.izabellaband.com
Jesse Cutler: www.jpcutler.com
Adam Blomberg: www.abaudioandmusic.com
Jason Parmar: www.myspace.com/shivarasta
Peter Medland: www.trumpetracks.com
Anthony Rogers-Wright: www.myspace.com/revolutionarysideeffects
Noah Reid: www.thenewup.com
Sarah Holzman: www.laurelensemble.com
Feel free to sponsor my art through donations.