muted tones

january 04


Chicago's Anthony Burton plays the mean rock guitar and sings with the Forty One Rivers and gets down via bass and voice with the Golden Horse Ranch Square Dance Band; his most recent project is Palliard and he occationally plays in The Royal We.

curator log:

Let me explain my pretentious title…

december 31st, 2003

Before I forget, I really want to thank Josh for asking me to contribute a piece to Muted Tones. I would not have produced this piece were it not for his invitation. Thanks Josh.

OK. I will now, as promised, explain the title. So dig it. The big long German word that I can’t even pronouce comes from Freud. It’s a big ole concept he has about memory. Basically, it goes like this: There’s no such thing as pure memory. Whatever is remembered is always colored by the experiences and events of the present. A memory is not a pure and accurate log of fact, but rather something of a collage. The event is remembered from greater and greater distance, through various lenses of experience and is, in fact, a dynamic thing…it’s always changing. Of course, in German you can just say “Nachträglichkeit.”

I called it this because it occured to me that the composition of this piece is sort of like this. I began with a 10 minute improvisation, that is still very much a part of the final piece, but so many layers have been added, and so many revisions have shaped it that it is now but an echo if the original improvised piece.

Josh asked me to say a word about recording technique. Pretty much everything was mic’d with one of two Oktava large diaphragm condenser mics. I got ‘em on sale for a song. I ran the mics through an old Sprit Folio mixer to EQ them, and then sent that signal into the old Pro Tools MBox. The Casio MT-68, which appears in the penultimate section (the heroic decending acoustic part) went direct.

The bowed bass that appears in the first acoustic section is actually two bowed basses. I panned one extreme right and the other extreme left. Both were miced about 3 inches from the left-side f-hole with the mic fairly live. The same technique was applied to the bowed bass in the penultimate section, except there are three bass parts, rather than two.

My friend Marshall plans to create a video to accompany this piece, and we hope to have occasion to have a public viewing/listening.

I just realized that I bought my computer and MBox 1 year ago today. I spent last New Year’s Eve at home recording. I was awakened the next morning around 8:00 or so by the sound of sirens and diesel engines. When I looked out the window I realized the building attached to my apartment building was on fire. It seemed a bad omen for 2003, but the year turned out to be pretty good, on balance. Here’s hoping for a good 04.

Thanks for listening, and reading.

January Tones, Muted

december 22nd, 2003

I finished my submission for January’s Muted Tones, and am surprised and pleased with the results. My approach was essentially improvisational. I began by recording 10 minutes of improv on my Wurlitzer electric piano and then built upon that foundation.

One of the marks of a home recording for me is the sound of my creaking chair, or the of the steam heat coming on. The mic never fails to pick up these sounds. I like the intimacy this gives to some recordings, but in this recording, I wanted the “natural” sounds to be musical events, not just incidental noise. To do this, I used a reverse reverb effect on the room mic. The resulting sound works something like this:

Sound of chair creaking / brief pause / sound of chair creaking in reverse.

The repetition of the sound gives it an intentionality, while the reverse effect gives the repeated sound its own musical character. But since the sounds originally occurred randomly, there’s still a healthy dose of chaos to them.

With the 10 minuted Wurli improv in place, I improvised a bass part, followed by guitar and analog synthesizer parts.

I listened to the recording repeatedly, and kept an ear out for my favorite moments. I then sampled those elements and used them as the foundation of a new 10 minute composition. In many cases I made liberal use of various digital effects on the loops and samples, including tempo delay, time expansion, pitch shift, and micro samples to create digital stutters.

As I worked on this 2nd version, I recorded new material as needed to complement the samples. The new composition took on a sound and shape very different from the original improvised track, and I never really knew where it would end up.

One thing I tried to do was to contrast the cold and sometimes grating sounds of digital distortion with the warmth of acoustic instruments. I further tried to highlight the difference by making the acoustic portions very musically friendly (i.e. hum-able) while the digital sections are more like a sound collage.

For the record, I played Wulitzer, acoustic and electric guitar, plucked and bowed upright bass, Casio MT-68, Roland 808, recorder, and vertical glockenschpiel.

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