muted tones

february 03

the frankfurt school

February is curated by Toronto's Jonny Dovercourt: the irregular beating heart of Kid Sniper, helps run High School Champion records, and books the remarkable Wavelength music series.

curator log:

The Frankfurt School

january 28th, 2003

The Frankfurt School
Brad Crowe (synths, sequencer, beats, effects)
Jonny Dovercourt (bass, melodica, guitar, toy piano)

This monstrosity… “it’s alive.”

We are quite pleased with the results. We hope you are too.


january 20th, 2003

So that was a quick four months. One day it’s the start of fall and sunny and I’m jamming out ambient dub style in the attic of 65 Alberta, looking forward to many weeks of productive collaboration with Mr. Brad Crowe, next thing you know it’s the dead of Canadian winter and 25 below (that’s Celsius, muthaz) and Josh D. is warning me of the impending deadline of my Muted Tones curatorial duties and whaddya know, Brad and I haven’t gotten together ONE GODDAMN TIME since Belmont Milds session #1. Circumstance and lethargy have kept the prawjekt on the backburner but necessity and emergency came along just in time to get our collective asses in gear.

Last week we got together for session #1, which involved — out of necessity — actually committing something to tape. Since a whole season has passed since our last/first engagement, I have only the sketchiest recollection of what we worked actually sounded like, let alone how any parts might have went. Thankfully, Brad’s sequencer has a photographic memory, so all his synth + beats components have been safely locked away from the ravages of entropy. Brad says he’s been tinkering with our two jams during his apparently bountiful free time, and I like the results when he plays them for me. The first song is driven by a loop of some funky live drumming Brad played on his roommate (and co-Anti DJ Syndicate-r) Jason’s kit, nice and loose and room sound-y, along with some sweet synth swells. After warming up from the trek northwards with some damn fine Bodum-brewed java, I jam along on my trusty P-bass and come up with some variations on a heavyweight bassline, which we structure into something resembling, well, a structure, and lay it down. Despite having to go through a Fender guitar amp, I get a surprisingly deep, depth-charge bass tone. The other tune Brad plays I don’t have such an easy time grasping, the beats are a little too broken for me to play along to, so instead Brad cues up another track which features a more bell-like synth tone and a scratchy rhythm track that also incorporate some nice sampled Fisher Price xylophone. For this, I plug in Brad’s hollowbody and, in one take, jam out some sparse, minor key Velvet Underground-style guitar action that takes the tune in quite a different direction, much to BC’s (and my) satisfaction. The session ends on a positive note, we are happy with the day’s results and wander down the icy street to the Gem for a couple of pints. Our prawjekt still has no name, the best (but still far from passable) moniker we can come up with is to fuse our respective “surnames” into Dovercrowe. Uh, yeah.

A week passes, and with the deadline ticking, we reconvene at Alberta St. for a quick Monday afternoon overdub session. Brad has added some compression to my bass on tune #1, and some heavy ‘verb to the geetar on #2, which now suddenly reminds me of Labradford — spacey and mournful. We drop out the rhythm track for most of #2, since the guitar and xylophone aren’t always in tune with one another, and as such the song sits in a nice minimalist place — reminding me of Main’s idea of “drumless space.” We decide this one doesn’t need anything else. I unleash the melodica in a couple of spots on #1, and it takes a few tries before I hit it — I ain’t no Augustus Pablo, ya know — but eventually I get it down smooth. I want to add a xylophone part on the Fisher Price but it doesn’t record so well, so I play it on the “toy piano” setting of B.‘s Yamaha Portasound keyboard. The Belmont Mild/Dovercrowe trax are now ready for mixing, which will commence on Saturday, which gives me two days to get the finished 10-minute meisterwork to Mr. Dumas…

On the walk home, my feet feel like two solid blocks of ice.

The Belmont Milds

september 28th, 2002

Dateline: T-dot. Saturday, Sept. 28. February 2003 is just over four months away. Not too soon for Jonny D. to start thinking about his Muted Tones curation entry. And it’s never too soon for him to stop referring to himself in the third person.

Okay. I’d just like to say I’m really excited about this. Let me just get the Oscar acceptance speech stuff out of the way. I was so thrilled and surprised when Josh asked me to participate. I used to always whine and complain that I never got asked to do anything sexy and exciting like curate an international online music series. Like what, do I have to legally change my name to “Jim O’Rourke” or something? Now I no longer have the right to be such a big whiner and complainer — so, thanks Josh. This is also my first experience with weblogging, or “blogging” I believe you kids call it.

It’s a sunny summer day here at the beginning of autumn in Canada. The leaves still haven’t begun to change. This summer has been so gross, I suspect they never will. Or if they do, they may stay that way forever. These days my worldview swings so wildly from utterly hopeless and apocalyptic to ridiculously optimistic and positive. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

ANYWAYS (to borrow a Chuck Klosterman-ism), last night I went over to my buddy Brad’s house to make some noise. I haven’t known Brad too long, I met him earlier this year through Wavelength booking, but we hit it off pretty much right away. He makes really great electronic tracks on his own, and performs with a band/live PA thing called Anorak — though they just changed their name to North — and DJs as well, under various different monikers. I took my bass up the street to his place, right at the top of the hill which separates downtown Toronto from the encroachment of suburbia (and is actually the old shoreline of glacial Lake Iroquois, but I digress). Brad lives with two other guys in a house that’s nice and big by T.O. standards, and he has a whole room dedicated to his music set-up. His gear array is positively sci-fi compared to my spartan keyboard table, though he describes it as “pretty ghetto.” He’s got a good handle on sequencing, running an old ‘80s drum machine through a MIDI sequencer, with lot of other little synths and samplers running through various effects. I can’t say I understand how it all works.

So Brad plays some tracks and loops he’s been thrown together on his own. I play along, dropping in dubby Tortoise/Joy Division basslines. It sounds great. Brad’s beats are all brittle and broken up — they sound like they’re in bizarre times, but he insists it’s all 4/4. His synth sounds are alternately warm and icy — I guess the closest comparison would be Aphex Twin, but does that mean anything anymore? We work on two different songs, each basically a 45 minute jam. Since the loops just keep going and going, we can stop and take smoke breaks and just listen. Brad tweaks this and that, and I drop the bassline back in, twist it around, or try and play along on his housemate Jason’s drum kit. The second tune I help shape more melodically, as Brad builds up a keyboard part in response to my bassline, which I jam out through a sample he made of his own drumming. Brad jokes that it sounds like that song “Somebody’s Watching Me” (about as paranoid as pop hit can get). At one point I drop in the bassline to “Once in a Lifetime.” So there is a definite new wave feel going on, though I think the closest touchstone for what we are doing would be To Rococo Rot — tuneful live dub bass meets ambient electronica. I’m digging it, definitely. There are some truly “lost in music” moments during the jam that I don’t always get from my rock band activities.

We finish up around 10:30 for the sake of the neighbours and drink more beer and smoke more smokes and talk about, well, music (what else?). We decide this will be an official collaboration, so we have to come up with a name for it. I jokingly suggest The Belmont Milds, since we both smoke the same brand of cigarettes. It turns out to stick as a working title…

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