Archive for the recordings Category

RECORDING | Southbound – “I’m Missing You” b/w “Southern Roads”

Posted in recordings with tags on June 28, 2017 by dukewisdom

Troy Jens, 1962 – 2014

Usually this type of post sees me going on and on in great detail about the minutiae of some self-indulgent project I’ve just unleashed. But this post is actually a tribute to my friend Troy Jens, who made his own choice to head off into the woods and not come back three years ago. Some of the below is adapted from a Facebook post I made when his body was discovered on this day in 2014.

did perform on this record, so it belongs here categorically. Way back in 1986-7 I played bass in a band called Southbound led by Troy, a fantastic singer and songwriter who became a good friend and mentor of sorts. We played mostly in the Omaha area, covering whatever bar patrons of that era wanted to hear. (I’m having strong memories of playing .38 Special, Bryan Adams, Bob Seger—very good memories, as a matter of fact, “Old Time Rock and Roll” notwithstanding.) Like many bar bands, we also mixed in a smattering of originals. Troy was steeped in everything from the above classic rock fare to gospel music and all points in between. I think he once told me his favorite singer was Barbara Streisand. At any rate, with this type of background Troy’s tunes were a cut above the type of original music you might hear in the Cabay Lounge in Papillion, NE—and a cut above lots of our cover fodder. Which is how it came to pass that we recorded a single most obscure.

In early ’87 we made a few trips to Topeka, KS (don’t ask me) to record a couple of tracks. The producer played a very smartly arranged bass line on the A-side, “I’m Missing You” (I was an 18-year-old guitar player—what the fuck did I know about it?). And my bass playing can be heard on the B-side, “Southern Roads.” I think it’s actually my only appearance on a vinyl record.

I’m pretty certain this one single is the total recorded output of the band, though Troy did release at least one more 45. I’d fallen out of contact with my old friend for most of the ’90s and ’00s, but we were able to digitally reconnect and share a few laughs and memories later on. I’m thankful for that.

RIP, Troy. Glad I got to know you and make music with you.


RECORDING | The Great Vehicle – Observatory Sermons

Posted in recordings with tags , on December 4, 2016 by dukewisdom
The Great Vehicle - Observatory Sermons

The Great Vehicle – Observatory Sermons

Please have a listen or download this progressive rock EP at bandcamp.

The Great Vehicle | Observatory Sermons
A Space Operetta in Six Stanzas

[[Each of the scenarios described below is taking place simultaneously. Right now and always.]]

001 The Man With the Neutron Scalp

[[Neutrons carry no electrical charge; their behavior is essential to the production of nuclear power. Yuri Gagarin, the star of this song, said, “The road to the stars is steep and dangerous. (Spaceflight) isn’t the work of one man or even a group of men. It is a historical process which mankind is carrying out in accordance with the natural laws of human development.” As he was hurled through space, Gagarin was an analogy: As neutral, yet powerful as a subatomic particle.]]

This song nearly refused to exist. Each time “Neutron” was exported—even by them most ballin’ computer we had access to—the mix became haunted by inconsistent glitches and other weirdness. (The machine was anything but “working normally.”) The finished product is the result of several subatomic edits. Embedded in this track is the explosive sound of a door slamming shut in the stairwell of a Virginia Beach Sheraton. We know you people love the field recordings. Internal notes about this song make reference to “the Prong section” and “the Queens of the Stone Age riff.” Please try to identify these sections in the interest of mental dexterity.

002 Lazlo Szombathy

[[Lazlo Szombathy is a peripheral character in the Kurt Vonnegut novel Mother Night, whose inclusion was a nod to the interconnectedness of all actions. Watch what you’re doing: We are all peripheral characters in the Novel of the Galaxy.]]

Wherein Betse Ellis makes the Kansas and Mahavishnu Orchestra dreams of those who have such things come true. That’s the main melody there in the acoustic intro, reharmonized a fifth lower. We know you people love reharmonization. The melody at 1:54 originated as sort of a guitar placeholder, then took on a most macabre flavor when doubled by Betse. The song is in 7/8, but contains exactly one measure of 8/8. Can you spot it? Do you care?

003 Did I See You Limping?

[[Things can get a little perilous down around the gantry. In fact, near Baikonur Cosmodrome, cases of “launchpad lameness” (стартовая площадка хромота) were once so common that it was easy to identify a certain grade of worker based on his gait.]]

The main riff may be considered 11/4 or 6/4 + 5/4. Or perhaps you will not consider it at all. For more counting, the section at 1:27 has 5/8 and 8/8 going on over drums in 5/4. Let’s boogie. Additional nuts & bolts: Note how the harmony guitars that enter at 3:24 foretell the drum pattern at 3:29.

004 Sundials

[[So long as a planet rotates on its axis, sundials operate the same regardless of the star supplying the light. The sundials in question happen to be on EPIC 201637175b, an exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf K2-22. This destination is 734 light years from Earth, but due to the nature of this story, listeners there are currently receiving.]]

This piece has undergone many revisions of arrangement, concept, and title. It started as a memorial to a departed friend, then took on more meaning and dedications as more friends departed. Enough with that bullshit, people. This is our first song to feature a ship’s bell. (We know how you people … oh, forget it.)

005 The People’s Cathedral

[[By its strictest definition, a cathedral is a very specific religious edifice. In the scope of the Observatory Sermons legend, a cathedral is any space in which the Invocation of the Bald Chemist is being observed. This may include a frozen warehouse, near a tree, or aboard the Chinese Shenzhou 5 reentry capsule.]]

It’s the title track to a different release … you know, like “Sheer Heart Attack” or “Houses of the Holy.” For those interested in the schematic, “Cathedral” is built around a fairly simple 6/4 over 4/4 polyrhythm. Just don’t try to listen to the opposite part when you’re playing along. Also, the bass and guitar are playing the same repeating pattern, but offset by three notes.

006 Pioneer 11

[[NASA ceased communicating with the exploratory spacecraft Pioneer 11 on September 30, 1995. But it’s still out there, a ghost ship heading toward Lambda Aquila, a star it will encounter in about four million years. Hitch a ride on that great vehicle.]]

“Pioneer” is The Great Vehicle’s longest, most spacious piece. The guitars are tuned, low-to-high, DADFCE, or what you might think of as open Dm9. Y’know, if you wish to do a cover.
The free-form middle section was harvested from the defunct Great Vehicle song “23/24 of Something.” It was conceived as a cross between musique concrète and a Calder mobile, and may or may not accidentally owe something to “Cygnus X-1” by Rush (probably don’t mention that to Gregg) or possibly “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party” by Pink Floyd (definitely don’t mention that to Gregg).

The players:
Mason Fann – Bass, fractional wave mutilation
Gregg Todt – Drums, percussion, baritone strangulation
Troy Van Horn – Guitar, percussion

Also featuring:
Betse Ellis – Violin (or is it Fiddle?)
The Tuvan Learning Center Annex Singers – Singing

Produced by The Great Vehicle
Recorded at #Industries
Basic tracks engineered by Paul Marchman
Additional recording at The Prussian Film Commission

Thanks to:
Paul Marchman, Betse Ellis, Joey “Boatswain” Hamm, Jason Brown, Mike “Whoof” Stover, Rex Woodwind, Robert Crypt, the late Cozy Powell’s leather gauntlets, North Tunnel Whitespace Math

Cover art: Some unsigned thrift store painting that hangs in Troy’s house.

Gear geek data:

Guitar sounds:
1974 Fender Stratocaster, 2006 Gibson Les Paul Studio, ’00s Michael Kelly Patriot Hot Rod, 1982 Gibson Marauder, ’70s Opus XX acoustic, 2005 Gibson SG Standard, FrankenBaritone (Fender Jaguar body with Danelectro neck), Peavey Power Slide (all strings tuned to A), Scarlett custom 50 watt guitar head, Marshall 4×12 cabinet, ’70s Fender Pro Reverb, 2005 Vox AC30, slide … Craftsman 11/16 socket

Bass sounds:
1974 Fender Jazz Bass modified with DiMarzio P-bass pickup in neck, original J’s in humbucker configuration in bridge with series/parallel switching (custom candy apple red finish ,once owned by member of The Commodores … for extra fucking vibes), 1995 American Fender P-Bass with custom wound Scarlett pickup in tobacco burst finish, Clayton Acetal standard 1.00mm picks (clear), 1972 Ampeg B15S, Scarlett 200 watt White Knight head into fearFul designed DIY 15/6 + fearFul designed DIY 15.

Bass pedal chain: Boss TU-2>Joyo Ultimate Overdrive> Boss LS-2 (A loop) EHX MicroPog>1972 EHX Big Muff fuzz>Boss PS-3>Dunlop 105Q bass wah>Boss RV-3> (A output) -> Ampeg (B output) Dunlop TS-1 tremolo>Akai Headrush E2 ->Scarlett

Drum sounds:
Ludwig Green Sparkle John Bonham kit – 26 x 14″ kick drum, 14 x 10″ rack tom and 16 x 16″ and 18 x 16″ floor toms, Yamaha Tour Custom snare 14 x 8″, whatever cymbals were laying around not broken, Blue Rhino propane tank (empty) (we suppose).

Bebot Theremin App played on iPhone6S through Scarlett head
released October 14, 2016

RECORDING | The Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists – Islands Shouting Lies

Posted in recordings with tags , , , on June 10, 2015 by dukewisdom
The Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists - Islands Shouting Lies

The Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists – Islands Shouting Lies

Let’s see if I can make sense out of this.

This is one of those projects (I’m sure you know the type) that started as a spark of inspiration sometime in the early ‘00s, fell by the wayside, languished on obscure disc drives, was resurrected, changed identities, then repeated the process. And now, due to public demand and label pressure (lies), here at last is Islands Shouting Lies by the Gentleman Echo Chamber Soloists. (Follow the link to listen and download for free.)

What is the project all about and who are the Chamber Soloists? Glad you asked. Islands Shouting Lies is pure aleatoric music, which is to say that aspects of the pieces are left to chance. The gist of the venture is the pitting against each of other of guitar improvisations governed only by an approximate length. Each “Iteration” features two or more solos which are simply superimposed. The interplay that results is entirely synthetic—what Zappa called “xenochrony.” If you’re into this type of thing, the outcome is frequently fascinating.

About the Soloists and their contributions:

“One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose” is a bizarre improvisation by Omaha, Nebraska’s Dave Benscoter. Listening to the piece by itself might make you itch.

“Remember, To a Tick You are Food” by Mike Stover of Kansas City, Missouri is the oldest component of the Islands—older than the project itself, in fact. This fretless guitar improvisation was inspired by a book on Lyme disease, in title if not performance.
(Mike plays steel guitar among other things for KC’s outstanding The Grisly Hand. Give them a listen.)

“On Fire Tonight” comes from Chicago’s Matt Silcock. At some point in the years between this project’s conception and execution, Matt’s original file was corrupted, so what’s here is a mutated, chopped & screwed version of the authentic item. Even then it had to be rescued from a flattened mix owing to (wait for it) a hard drive failure, hence its unfortunately sparse appearances here.

“Choir in Bondage” comes courtesy of Ben Levin from Boston. From the sparing amount of time I’ve been able to spend with Ben, I’d say that “Choir” is an absolute manifestation of his personality—intelligent, adventurous, and humorous.
(You must check out Bent Knee and the Ben Levin Group.)

“Whatever You Say, Man” is by Jorge Arana, also of Kansas City, and was the final improv to arrive. I have wondered aloud if the title was Jorge’s reaction when I explained this project and asked him to contribute. I was certain he had the appropriate acumen for Islands and “Whatever” does not disappoint.
(Be sure to check out the dazzling Jorge Arana Trio.)

“Bewildered” is by Troy Van Horn … that’s me. This track, like “On Fire Tonight,” was lost in the Great Data Failure of 20xx. Oh well.

“Lab Rat 2” is also by me. It’s a recent improvisation to replace the above. I used my ca. 2006 Les Paul studio through an Akai Headrush for added graininess.

Here is how the tracks meet up. Unless my spreadsheet has gone afoul (a distinct possibility), the first piece listed is in the left channel.

‣Iteration 001: Lab Rat 2 vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose

‣Iteration 002: One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iteration 003: Remember, To a Tick You are Food vs. Choir in Bondage

‣Iteration 004: Choir in Bondage vs. Whatever You Say, Man

‣Iteration 005: Whatever You Say, Man vs. Lab Rat 2

‣Iteration 006: On Fire Tonight vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iteration 007: Choir in Bondage vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose

‣Iteration 008: Whatever You Say, Man vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iteration 009: Remember, To a Tick You are Food vs. Bewildered

‣Iteration 010: Whatever You Say, Man vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose

‣Iteration 011: Choir in Bondage vs. Lab Rat 2

‣Iteration 012: Lab Rat 2 vs. One Continuous Length of Rubber Hose vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food

‣Iterattion 013: On Fire Tonight vs. Remember, To a Tick You are Food vs. Choir in Bondage

Kitchen sink
‣Iteration 014: All hands. Every track at once. (It’s really far too much. You probably shouldn’t listen to it.)

Some of these gents know each other; others have never heard of one another. This is part of what I consider to be the magic of the project.

Regarding the title: In “The Light That Failed,” Rudyard Kipling said, “We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.” That seems appropriate to the proceedings. Quoting Kipling? What is this lofty bullshit? Well the whole damn thing is pretty lofty, isn’t it?

Many thanks to my co-conspirators, Dave, Mike, Matt, Ben, and Jorge for humoring me in this preposterousness. Thanks to Mason Fann for Headrush and Yeti visitations. Acknowledgement to Rex Woodwind.

Realized at The Prussian Film Commission.

RECORDING | Gentleman Echo – Absolute Ozone Robot

Posted in recordings with tags on January 23, 2015 by dukewisdom
Gentleman Echo - Absolute Ozone Robot

Gentleman Echo – Absolute Ozone Robot

Please listen to and/or download the album at Bandcamp.

Program notes and self-indulgent minutiae

According to the date on the folder, Absolute Ozone Robot was created in late December, 2012. Then it was mostly neglected for the next 23 months, occasionally receiving daylight and water. Finally I got tired of the project hanging over my head like a small, festering planet peopled by creatures missing arms and feet, and so on. And in December 2014 (with rusting apparatuses finally removed from my literal and spiritual driveways) I made the push to complete the thing. Yeah, so, here it is.

Absolute Ozone Robot (the album’s third official title) was realized entirely on a MacBook, utilizing a borrowed microphone, some software of dubious origin and every guitar I own. Here’s a guided tour:

01 “Pink Opera Glasses”
Wherein an atmosphere is established. Wouldn’t you like to come in?

02 “Gold Coin Eyes”
And, welcome. This spacious construction was intended to be the first movement of a single 50-minute piece. Maybe next time. Nestled among the harmonized feedback and drifty percussion there’s some sound that reminds me of the shitty werewolf in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Not even sure what that is anymore. Anyway, this track introduces the first of many field recordings grafted into the music, in this case some ambient racket from the Washington D.C. subway as captured by my phone. There is no record of the tuning introduced at 2:44; guess I won’t play this one (or anything else here) live. “Gold Coin Eyes” (name borrowed from a phrase in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, I believe) was one of the first pieces recorded and one of the last finished, the sawtooth-y synth part being added in the 11th hour.

03 “Filthy Science”
That’s my idea of a I-IV-V riff. (Right here there used to be some self critical, second guessing talk. Instead, here’s a quote from John Cage: “The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I feel it’s not beautiful? And very shortly you discover there is no reason.”) The outro introduces the idea of overlapping rhythms which will be prevalent throughout, along with some found sound.

04 “Black Velocities”
Title phrase lifted from some other sci-fi book. The song’s main riff was conceived at double the speed, but reveals more of its facets as it came to rest. I went full on “fake Michael Schenker” in that middle harmony section. Forgive me. While many of the guitar solos contained here were very (too?) stream-of-consciousness, this one was mapped out.

05 “Migration Hypnosis”
Most of the tracks on AOR were composed organically and arranged via editing: A progression, riff, or beat would suggest another part, then a complementary section, and eventually a “song” would take form. “Migration Hypnosis,” on the other hand, was totally written out out on paper beforehand. Ehhhr, with the exception of that middle section. And about that: Before I realized what was happening, I wound up with several pieces that include “weirdness freakout bridges,” interrupters that send the proceedings off into a confusing miasma of tangled thoughts (not unlike a conversation among many I know). Call it a motif.

06 “Here to Identify the Head (featuring Forklift Chase)”
I consider this the centerpiece of the album, a sun around which the 11 neighboring tracks revolve. I guess I was thinking Fripp/Belew King Crimson when assembly of this prickly tangle of polyrhythmic parts began. I’m very pleased where it all went. The “Forklift Chase” section was one of the final bits recorded, a late addition to the song and a way to take it in another direction (and a chance for another polyrhythm—5/4 versus 4/4 in this case, for those scoring at home). Regarding that “Forklift” riff: I knew what the atmosphere of notes would be but was unsure about the rhythmic phrasing. Then I was teaching a student the bass line to “Blood & Roses” by The Smithereens and … the rest is history.

I had the worst time mastering “Head.” A few failed runs told me to return to the original track for a remix/EQ, which eventually did the trick, such as the trick is. Incidentally, I was making an A/B comparison between these tracks and Culture Clash by The Aristocrats. That thing is mastered like a mother and I lose—but it was a great benchmark.

Another side note: About three days before I finished mixing these tracks a friend made some passing comment to the effect of, “do they even do fade outs on records anymore?” (I think someone had put on Toto IV – seriously). Well, AOR, perhaps owing to its studio-born nature, is full of fades. So there you go.

07 “The Traveling Ear”
I had just taken possession of a Joyo Classic Flanger pedal.

08 “Soil Sample”
It’s just a little ol’ asylum blues stomp about contaminated earth. A lot of the guitars on AOR were recorded at a fairly low volume and with me positioned fairly near the microphone. The result is that sometimes there’s an interesting blend of the sound coming out of the amp with the actual sound of the unamplified strings in the room. That texture can be heard here on both guitar parts.

09 “The Myth of Shared Hydraulics”
The David Byrne/Brian Eno album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was a subliminal driver for this one. And the brief clean tone guitar solo contains an accidental reference to “Total Mass Retain” by Yes, so we’re all over the map here. When the melody is restated at 1:44 it has been shifted by an eighth note on purpose. I think it’s cool how it adapts in the busy environment. Midday church bells from Astoria, Queens can be heard during the fade.

10 “A Radar is Born”
Now isn’t that a pretty chord? “Radar” was born with the B section riff, which haunted by brain while driving for hours on I-29 during the late summer of 2014. The entire song is another example of the slippery rhythms that permeate AOR: The feel is slightly unhinged, yet not overtly nuts like some of the other dance numbers herein. The guitar solo section features a bed (queen size with paisley comforter) of harmonized bass, making it a distant relative of “Walk on the Wild Side.”

11 “Femur Simulator 2”
Winding down now. This one came to life while visiting some friends’ lake house. As such I consider it a strange souvenir of the Ozarks. “FS2” contains another freakout bridge, this one featuring some more found audio along with a sample of “The Frown Returns” from the Gentleman Echo album Research Arc.

12 “Disembarker X”
“Disembarker X” is the one who departs, who steals away into the amethyst evening, possibly without finishing his or her drink (but probably doing so). “Disembarker X” is the sound of Absolute Ozone Robot signing off.

Thanks and a tip of the space helmet to:
Venus for enduring the rumbling and clanging emanating from my office; Mas for the Yeti; Benny for Fender delivery and everything always; Ryan for enduring the mixing process; Rex Woodwind for soup; The Great Vehicle; Alberto and Dahveed from Giant Deer Bear; Duke Wisdom; and to the mysterious “Chaucer” who painted the version of Paul Klee’s “Senecio” that serves as the album cover—purchased in an antique mall in Harrisonville, MO. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!

Finally: This album, of course, is dedicated to Jim Van Horn, 1947-2014. I used a few of his guitars on here and their Juju made it all the better.

Realized at The Prussian Film Commission.

RECORDING | The Great Vehicle – The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths

Posted in recordings with tags , on August 1, 2013 by dukewisdom
The Great Vehicle - The People's Cathedral of Wavelengths

The Great Vehicle – The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths

This was the first (somewhat) proper recording of The Great Vehicle, a group started in the summer of 2011. This release is available at Bandcamp where the following “liner notes” lay it out pretty well:

The Great Vehicle – The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths: A guided tour of performance, technical, and philosophical minutiae.

For your dancing and listening enhancement.

Bald Chemist
The People’s Cathedral of Wavelengths starts off, as so many great EPs do, with a quick reference to the Squeeze album Frank. And then we get down to business. It’s the business of pondering, what if Andy Summers accompanied Michael Karoli to a thrift store, what if Terry Kath had been born in Istanbul, what if you could overdub today’s version of yourself into last June, and who gives a fuck anyway? You too can ruminate on these and other closely related matters as the dense cube of sound hovers millimeters above your cranium.

By the way, the basic tracks for all of these songs were recorded using the following gear:

• 1974 Fender Stratocaster through a custom Scarlett Amplification 50 watt head and a Celestion-loaded Randall 4×12 cabinet with the logo removed and a bad caster. Additional flavoring and hiss from Boss, Danelectro, and MXR pedals.
• 1995 Fender American Standard Precision Bass through a custom Scarlett Amplification 200 watt head and handmade EV 15B-loaded TL606 cabinets. Additional tonal squeezing from Ibanez TS-9, GGG Tuned Big Muff Pi clone, and early 70’s Big Muff pedals.
• A recording-specific drum set comprising 10”x14” and 16”x16” Ludwig toms (green sparkle), a Pearl 16”x22” kick drum (black) and a 1980s Yamaha Stage Series snare featuring an Evans ST Dry head that’s been on for at least 12 years. Cymbals used: Whatever Gregg had lying around in an old Minsky’s Pizza bag that weren’t cracked.

The “Bald Chemist” guitar solo was performed on a burgundy ‘00s Gibson Les Paul Studio with a mirrored pick guard. That’s where it gets its tone. And if you think the reverb on the snare at 2:05 is reminiscent of that in Van Halen’s “Love Walks In,” well, that’s an unfortunate coincidence. The end of the song features a fan favorite sing-along. Actually, it’s amusing (for about 17 seconds) to shout “Bald Chemist” at the end of any song … by any band, really.

Black Mesh Object
The bass guitar riff from “Black Mesh Object” randomly fell out of Mason’s hands at a rehearsal and Troy wrote out the 7/8 middle section while stopped at a traffic light. This is how you write a song. And speaking of that middle section, it also features sleigh bells played in a way they’re not supposed to be played and a 10” rack tom run through an amp emulator for maximum Mitchell Froom-ian say what-ness.

The Gift of Weird Horse Bones
Music to dig a moat by. “The Gift of Weird Horse Bones” was the first song written for The Great Vehicle, the riff appearing in Troy’s head before there really was any manner of vehicle. Things to consider: The Brian May type harmonies that pop up were a studio embellishment. No astrophysics degree required, thank you. That part that might remind you of something David Gilmour played on Pink Floyd’s “Pigs” is derived from the whole tone scale. Also, the gallop-y middle section (referred to colloquially as the “Iron Maiden part,” though Erik thought it sounded like “Smokin’” by Boston) used to be another long-winded guitar solo before it became composed carnival ride music. Time signatures utilized: 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 for those transcribing at home.

This solo guitar piece was performed on a Di Pinto guitar (silver sparkle) tuned to an open augmented chord (F A C# F A F, it is believed). The tone was achieved by running directly into a Roland VS-880 Digital Studio Workstation and using its internal amp modeling presets. The results were just fine. And then Erik mentioned in passing a field recording he’d made in Australia of bellbirds (Manorina melanophrys). That’s what you hear in the background and that’s what made this piece come to life, such a life as it has.

Touched in the Head
A hot jam for your Ganymedian dance party, “Touched in the Head” is sometimes referred to as “Phil Rudd Counts to Five.” The first riff has been around since about 2006 and the “verse” chords are derived from an aborted song called “No Ape Chains.” So, yeah, it’s basically disparate mismatched junk glued together with industrial strength adhesive—in the best possible way, of course. Watching Gregg play the drum parts to this song is even better than listening to them. But you’ll have to see that for yourself.

Swan Meat (Slight Reduction)
If Nokie Edwards from The Ventures listened to Prong for three years solid he might … no, never mind. At any rate, “Swan Meat” is TGV’s version of garage-prog-surf. Deep info about the track: It has the diminished scale in its DNA (for those transcribing at home). The guitar solo was performed on a Michael Kelly Valor-Q with direct-mounted, zebra-coil Rockfield SCW humbuckers. And those Racer X sort of harmony arpeggios required fewer takes than you might think. (There was an over/under of 7,000 going into the session.) The breakdown following the solo features an unknown preacher from an unknown cable channel (we’re not saying anyway) and percussive whacking on a flask (empty).

RECORDING | Federation of Horsepower – Stay Down

Posted in recordings on November 5, 2011 by dukewisdom

This album is nearing its 10th birthday. Egads. So here, for the first time on Echoflower, are the “expanded liner notes” to the Federation of Horsepower release Stay Down. The following text appeared on CD Baby (where apparently you can still purchase the album) and probably on Myspace. (2017 formatting and one grammar change added.)

Following is a detailed breakdown of Federation of Horsepower’s debut album, Stay Down, a veritable dissection of the beast from KCMO. Before listening to Stay Down or reading the article, it is recommended that you listen to the following records, in this order: AC/DC – Let There Be Rock, Motorhead – Motorhead, Cheap Trick – Live at Budokan, Thin Lizzy – Black Rose, Zeke – Til the Livin End, ZZ Top – Fandango, Blackfoot – Marauder, Turbonegro – Scandinavian Leather, Black Sabbath – Paranoid, Led Zeppelin – II, Misfits – Walk Among Us, Supersuckers – Smoke of Hell, The Who – Live at Leeds, Trouble – Manic Frustration, Iron Maiden – Killers.

Are you back yet? Good, let’s get on with it.

Track 1 – Greetings from Killa City 
My boys are whiskey drunk and hell bound …
The traditional set opener also opens the album with proper bombast. Chris’ drum part punches your face, but also subtly builds as the intro progresses. Catfish and producer Paul Malinowski (P-Mal) concocted a bass tone that has been described as “if Larry Graham smoked Jack Bruce.” That covers the first five seconds of the record. Following are about seven layers of guitars – can you count them? Don’t miss the battle between the massive syncopated octave part and the “Welcome to the Jungle”-like delay part. I declare a draw.
There’s the intro: Stay Down meet the world, world meet Stay Down.
The song proper then kicks things into high gear and establishes a thesis. Yep, that’s what it does. It also eats your stereo. Did you know the lyrics quote horror rapper Ganksta NIP? It’s true. After a three minute battering, the riff returns once more, this time inexplicably with pounding piano, just like “Spirit of Radio.” Gregg and I each played half the keyboard; put us together and you’d have one shitty pianist. Whew.

“Yes or No” 
My boots are walking out that door … 
The scream at 0:07 is Mr. Chris Fugitt’s only “vocal” on the album. Jeezis. I wasn’t there, but I understand you could actually hear it outside the building. Meanwhile, this is another no nonsense (or is it all nonsense?) piece of rock and roll narrative which, like the best of them, takes place in a bar. It features the first of several trade off solos between Gregg and me. Most of the solos on the album, I’d like to point out, are double-tracked, i.e. played twice mostly identically by the player. It’s not always that easy, but it makes for a great sound. And speaking of great sounds, most of my personal favorites contained herein were generated on my ’80s Gibson Maruader through Brodie Rush’s speakerless Mesa combo through some Marshall cabinet. Thanks, Brodie!

I wonder who you’re under … 
This song is all about delicate vocal interplay as propagated by Johnny Catfish. And testosterone, I suppose. One might not think of “Sugar” first when it comes to dynamics, but I think the middle of the song – about 1:44 to 2:44 – is a great roller coaster of rage and release. And then rage again. “Sugar” will get under your skin.

“Hot Rails”
What you got is gonna keep me comin’ back …
The finest phone sex song on the album. There are several minorly varying versions of Hot Rails floating around: the video version has a slightly longer intro, mostly so we can see Gregg driving that sweet ass car; the Lead Pipe Lullabies EP version doesn’t have the vocal “heys” towards the end of the song. Also, the earlier version fades about 10 seconds sooner. All variations contain the overlapping solos of me dueling with myself like a hairy Elliot Easton.
While we were tracking Stay Down, Westend Studios came into possession of at least one new toy, a baritone guitar. Since we’d already used the kitchen sink, there was no reason to leave this new object out. So, Gregg’s outro solo features but one example of P-Mal’s suggestion, “great, now double it on baritone.” How can I relate this? Imagine writing out the lyrics to “Suffragette City” on a Schlitz coaster in pencil, then going back to trace over them with a five inch paint brush. Yeah, something like that.

“Outlaws of Hollister”
They don’t want your kind around here …
Go watch The Wild One with Marlon Brando for lyrical background. This is a filthy, scuzzy groove worthy of a mythical bike invasion. I suggest listening loudly to the first 1:16 while driving one mile per hour looking for a parking spot at a mall, preferably the Westroads in Omaha. Seriously, try it.
Now, I don’t have much experience with this type of thing, but I think “Hollister’s” solo is the very sound of hallucinogenics, its chromatically moving unison bends telegraphing paranoia and lethargy through a heat haze. Good god, I’m starting to sound like Richard Meltzer or Wolf Marshall. Anyway, note the baritone doubling at 2:32.
The album version of Hollister also differs from the Lead Pipe version. Eight measures that we play live towards the end of the track have been omitted and “simulated tape slow down” is unique to the album. A nod to “Black Diamond?”

Sequencing an album’s tracks is an art form unto itself. We knew “Killa City” was going to open the record, but that still left us with 12!, or 479,001,600 possible combinations. I think we must have entertained most of them at one point or another. Then our “label guy,” Kafka the Dog mastermind Doug Washington, suggested the very order here. His idea, more or less, was that of a rock tour de force in three movements plus coda, the first movement composed of the preceding rockers, the second containing the album’s bluesier numbers as a respite, and the third blazing out loudly, with the title track providing a unique postscript. The discussion now enters movement two, with …

“Blues for Miss Cole”
It’s been a long time comin’ …
Miss Cole is a real person; maybe you know her. But then again, aren’t all the characters mentioned real? We’ll never tell. This track, a late add to the sessions, features Gregg on drums in addition to his usual chores since he was the only one who knew the song. Hey – he ain’t bad! You think he’s ever played them things before?! If you were to listen to the drum tracks alone you could hear him humming the song to himself. The featured dobro is a souvenir from our November ’06 trip to Des Moines.

“She’s With Me” 
That girl is mine now, mister can’t you see …
A sort of Southern rock gospel stomper. Accordingly, many people (ok, me) think Gregg sounds just like Danny Joe Brown at times. He also plays a killer slide solo. I think one of the unexpected “jams of the album” comes at 1:39 when Chris’ propulsive drum work is joined by the Rosedale Boys Choir. It ain’t religious boy, I know this much is true.

“Devil Child”
Fold up your soul and put it in his pocket …
There is another great dynamic stretch in this song starting at about 2:06 with Gregg’s great slide solo through Chris’ swinging, yet technical fills, to Catfish’s nasty bass break. Once when I told someone that I was joining Federation, their reaction was, “that’s one loud band.” Yeah, but that is kind of missing the point. Loud is most effective when you contrast it with quiet and the fact that we had the opportunity to explore quiet (a little) is one of the things that makes this studio creation what it is. And we’re damn proud of it.

Together we will burn like 1000 angry suns …
From the random 5/4 drum intro (Gregg again), you know things are a little different. I suppose this song is bluesy at its core, but it’s a psychedelic space blues. There are all sorts of cool things lurking in the mix – baritone guitar arpeggios, shimmering tremolo chords, trombone (just kidding), you name it. Gregg’s lyrical solo is another fine example of double-tracking.

“Sin Wagon”
It’s dirty and I like it that way …
Automobile rock! Or could it be that there is double entendre in a rock tune? Hmm. Clearly, this song ushers in the album’s third movement with its Rose Tattoo-like bluster. “Sin Wagon” sounds best played in a car with four Jensen tri-axial speakers screwed into a plywood box. The solo reminds me of Mick Jones of Foreigner, always a pet favorite due to his “uhh … what?” style leads.

Consider this on your last love letter …
It ain’t over yet, folks. Gregg insists the intro chords are derived from a Split Enz tune. Can’t you just hear it? Anyway, the song is certainly a spiritual cousin of Corrosion of Conformity. Your spine will note the sonic boom inserted by P-Mal at 0:11 even if your ears don’t. Cool effect and obscure fact: One of the doubled solos has wah pedal while the other does not. Never forget the grinding, subbasement dwelling roar of Catfish’s bass. Just don’t.

I believe he’ll save our souls with a loud ass rockin’ band …
The Federation national anthem and standard set closer (though formerly the set opener), “Testify” closes down the rock proceedings with a crash, bang, wallop. It’s probably the best Motorhead song that Motorhead never recorded. Ok, us multiplying guitar parts is one thing, but due to a technical problem in the original take, Chris had to come back in a redo the drums on this one. So, he came in after working 12 hours, listened to himself and the rest of the track playing back and nailed this final version in one take. And we all said, “fuck!”
This is another of our favorite trade off solos. Gregg’s portion has been in existence for a couple years, but my part was never really set. So, we built it in the studio. Now, normally when approaching Federation solos, I like to think, WWGMD (what would Gary Moore do?), but on this particular day, I’d been listening to Eat ‘Em and Smile by David Lee Roth (fuck off – it’s got great playing on it …), so I had a little Vai on the brain. It may show at certain points. At any rate, it was exceedingly fun and probably my personal favorite session.

“Stay Down”
Willie was crazy, his ain’t wired right … 
The cool-your-brain-down track, alternately titled, “Tom Waits for No Man.” Bent blues weirdness. The percussion track was constructed by Gregg playing a kick drum and snare, alternately whacking a music stand (Manhasset, black) upon which rested a tambourine. It was my job to return the stand and tambourine to their original positions after each whack.We think Tom would approve. Catfish played his part on a one stringed bass found in a closet at a funeral parlor.

And so, that’s the story of Stay Down, as I see it. What do you think?

Added bonus relic:
Here’s a review of the album from way back when. Dig those references to KC peers Last of the V8s (RIP) and Architects (still going strong).

Stay Down
(Kafka the Dog)
Review from the 7.19.07 Kansas City Star by Tim Finn.

FOHP is a rock band like Olympus Mons is a volcano: When it goes off, it alters the universe. Without a whiff of pretense or a dab of cosmetic polish, it unleashes a bone-cracking pummel and convulsive vocal/guitar roar.

Yet it sustains enough groove and tune (with some harmonies!) to give listeners something to grab onto during the wild, rollicking ride.

The sound is decidedly Motor City gutbucket rock, but it has some AC/DC (“Sin Wagon”) up its sleeve, too; and “Dog,” its idea of a “ballad,” is sweet and grimy, like something killed and grilled by Aerosmith and Ted Nugent.

Gregg Todt is the singer, and he squalls like a few other “Killa City” screamers, including Ernie Locke and R.J. Mattes. He has a bruising rhythm section and a lead guitarist who can play whatever role is needed, sniper or rocket launcher.

So here’s a proposal — our music scene’s version of an UFC throwdown: Put the Federation, the Architects and the Last of the V8s in the same room and see who brings down the first load-bearing wall.

RECORDING | Burning Mirror – Desired:Purity

Posted in recordings with tags on March 20, 2011 by dukewisdom

Burning Mirror – Desired:Purity

In the interest of sharing with some friends who might not have heard the music before, I recently resurrected some recordings from times long past. Burning Mirror was a project that began on a lark, turned into an elaborate joke, then later became a real band. But I’m ahead of myself.

Around Labor Day 1997 (I think) my friend Nick Bretz and I decided to put his excellent home recording gear and engineering skills to good use and lay down a few tracks. We’d recently discovered the album  Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) by Praxis which, if you’ve not heard it, is a record by a revolving cast led by Bill Laswell, an avant-garde smorgasbord of electronica, metal and other influences featuring Buckethead and Bootsy Collins. That should give you the idea. This album informed a certain freedom of vision and reminded me that so much of the music I love is free of boundaries. Though the Praxis album featured a real drummer (the infamous Brain, no less), the music still featured a somewhat synthetic texture, the style of which inspired us to build basic tracks with loops and drum samples. And off we went.

I’m going to run through the album track-by-track here in an effort to get the recollections all down before they escape me or are further mutated by the fog, feathers and sands of time. If you’d like to listen in and get a sample of the absurd mythology we built up around the project, please go here.

This opening atmospheric collage of digital racket provides a decent thesis for the entire album—and for the prevailing state of mind at the time of these recordings. The patchwork statement, “There is no meaning,” goes straight to the heart of the Dadaist leanings of its creators. Additionally, this track was placed so that if the CD were to be played on repeat, it would answer the question posed by its bookend, the album closer “Coins”: “What is the meaning?”

Battle of Fractions
The first proper song on the album was also (as I recall it) the first recorded. “Battle” almost didn’t make it to the real world. It was the victim of one of multiple digital storage failures suffered during the production. (Another example that didn’t make it: Somewhere in a landfill on some unsalvageable drive exists/does not exist a piece called “Infra-black Prism,” a casualty with elegant chords which will never be heard by humans.) When the original tracks were lost what remained was an incomplete test mix, a “flattened” version of the number which was layered upon. I know the harmony guitars during the “verses” were added post-crash. Aside from that I can’t be sure. The guitar solo at 1:02 was played by muting the strings near the nut with the right hand and hammering all the notes in what was meant to be some sort of fluid, quasi-Allan Holsdworth excursion. Just one such idea that didn’t quite get there, but is still pretty cool.

Incidentally, “Fractions” is the only link between Burning Mirror the recording concept and Burning Mirror the live band. It was played live at each of the group’s 13 or so shows.

You Call that Rust?
This song gains much of its character from the Roland VG-8 guitar synth. That’s its sound on the gargantuan main theme. I’ve always liked how the atmosphere opens up at 1:19 with Nick’s lyrical melody and accompanying acoustic guitars (done with a solid body Epiphone through the Roland) even though the boxy and claustrophobic drum pattern remains constant. Shades of Peter Gabriel? Maybe.

Speaking of equipment, the VG-8 is just one piece of gear used on this project that was later retired, stolen or otherwise misappropriated. I won’t get into the gory details, but it—along with some great guitars—was absconded with by someone with access and opinion that they were the rightful owners. It took me a long while to get over all that. But the galaxy will make all things right in the end.

The quote that ends the song, “Disc one,” marks the first appearance of another theme, the introduction of Latenight John.

Gods, Devils, Etc. …
The main riff was played on a drop-D tuned Gibson (either a Marauder or missing Les Paul Custom). It consists of descending then ascending chromatic lines sauced up with octave displacement. I just re-learned the part—pretty slick. Fairly bitchen solo at :58, though the rhythmic phrasing strikes me as somewhat erratic now. It’s an interesting reminder of what I played like 14 years ago.

As the guitar break ends a couple of things happen. First, there’s some crowd noise lifted from Journey Captured. I hope Herbie Herbert doesn’t come after me. At the same time there is a succession of 16th note triplets on the bass (Epiphone 5-string, also stolen). Those were played finger-style; in addition to guitar, I was teaching a lot of bass at that time, so that skill got put to use.

Listen Louder
I’ve been circumlocuting the fact that all was not exactly right with the world at the time of these recordings. In fact, my life was already in the process of going off the rails, though I couldn’t quite realize or face that at the time—more gory details that shall be omitted and which are not important because eventually life moved to an amazing place.

At any rate, “Listen Louder” was originally written with lyrics addressing aspects of the situation. It was performed once or twice as part of an acoustic duo, possibly at a Barnes & Noble in Independence, MO (talk about gory details). When the decision was made to record a version of the song for Burning Mirror, my roller coaster of thoughts had gone another direction and I no longer believed in or supported the lyrics. So it’s an instrumental.

I’ve always been pleased with the arrangement of this one, with its flute-like festooneries popping in and out, fake Hammond/Leslie, sprinkled piano. I was studying Steely Dan arrangements around the time I was writing “Listen,” a fact that would be reflected in some of the chord inversions were you to drill down that far. The chords to the solo are F#m – Em, implying D if you’d like to play along.

To Explore the Sea
Wherein we pretend to be on side two of Pink Floyd Animals or something. There was a lot of improvisation in the creation of Desired:Purity. The chords to “Explore” were born out of some long forgotten open tuning. This is most evident in the clean tone guitar solo at 3:38, a part that was played in that unfamiliar tuning. Guitarists will tell you that improvising in an alien tuning, while somewhat liberating, is akin to walking on ice with someone else’s feet. A spacious track.

I am a Robot!
Oh man. Layers and layers of guitar madness—I think I count five or six interlocking parts in the A section, the themes of which are varied throughout the track. I think I wrote out all the parts between guitar students at a store in Belton, MO. The site of that store now contains a Little Caesar’s carry-out pizza shop. Does it all make sense?

Amidst the late ’90s studio trickery there are some plain old analog parts. One in particular that comes to mind is the really bizarre high-pitched squeal that accompanies the sample, “You are a robot.” That’s nothing more than Nick’s voice. Into a microphone. (It can be heard in all its glory at 1:27 and 3:07 just before the majestic [?] return of the main theme.) He has since noted that his throat will no longer make such sounds.

At 1:11 comes another solo with which I’m still pretty happy. Behind that solo is … me riffing with Abe Laboriel Jr. Yeah, ok, it’s from a sample library. But hey—we’re groovin’ back there!

The piano solo at 1:56 was not actually played, but pieced together in a stepwise way for playback. We were going for the controlled madness of Mike Garson on David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. That just goes to show you how great he is. Not sure what inspired the ensuing interlude. Creepy.

This track was a bitch to mix.

Player with Matches
Another labyrinth of guitar variations which might’ve been written in the same manner as the above. I love the angular rhythm shift at 1:08. That type of tempo switch almost certainly came from years of listening to Anthrax. What a huge sound and multifaceted sound in that section. The following variation features slide guitar that was played using a screwdriver, I believe.

The weird breakdown at about 3:00 contains sounds courtesy of my old ART rackmount processor. The patch was called “Spaceman (+) 7” or some such ridiculousness. Another big pain in the ass to mix down.

Sky Burial
Latenight John returns to introduce this sprawling piece of improvisation. I think this was recorded as a live duet between Nick on keyboard (a Kurzweil PC88) and me on guitar—we just set the rhythm loop and let it go. You can certainly hear the searching at times, although I’ve heard it so many times that this is just the way it goes. I’d like to apologize for the exceedingly Santana-like lick at 2:23; I listened to Borboletta one too many times in high school, you see.

I’ve been astonished in the intervening years as to how subtle-to-nonexistent my vibrato sometimes is. It’s very apparent on “Sky.” Not sure how I feel about that.

40,000 Pages
In some cases I’m not sure which came first, the title, the music, or the concept. Regardless of its genesis, the story behind this song is that a university music composition professor (Yoke Pulliam) sets about to write his ultimate piece of music. Only as he jots the last note down (with India ink on parchment) does he realize he’s written the exact same piece he’s written countless times before. With a sigh he places the page on one of untold piles of manuscript paper jamming his apartment.

The chord progression was written on guitar and then arranged for piano.

The Hair that Won’t Sleep
Another primarily improvised, later decorated piece. There’s some nice thematic development here. The bass on this and one other track was played by a Kansas City area artist and musician who left my orbit and has not returned. I’ll tell you the story some life over a beer and a taco, if you like. See 2:55 for the conceptual continuity of Latenight John. This threading together of the project with recurring motifs is pure Zappa.

Moebius Owl Skulls
This track has overlapping bass parts played by yours truly. It also contains the famous line, “The town’s own berry is like a metaphor.” Yeah. Would you like to see a video that played in an obscure film festival or two? Ok, then:

Brain, Heart, Other Devices
This is another one of the first bits recorded for the project. It’s … frantic.

Last Days of Logic
That first quote may or may not be lifted from a Hendrix album. Over the years this has grown to be an unexpected favorite of mine. The percussion parts lumbering along in the background were precisely composed, then executed on the Kurzweil’s weighted keyboard with the accuracy of a disinterested high school marching band sitting in the stands in late October. There’s some backwards guitar at the end that I believe was flown in from another song, xenochrony style.

Man Without Sanity
Another of the bridging vignettes, the maddening sound of this track perfectly summarizes several years of my life. In another instance of conceptual continuity, playing somewhere overhead is a distorted portion of the song “All Eyes West” (I think), an acoustic solo piece from another album of mine.

The System is Vague
This sounds pretty heavy, but it’s a compression stunt. The chunky guitar parts were recorded at a whisper late at night. “System” contains polyrhythmic events and a pseudo-Michael Schenker interlude. More Abe Jr. I think.

Vacant-Eyed John
No, that’s not really a banjo; it’s the Roland VG-8. The rhythmic background is a loop created from a CD of railroad sounds. At 1:07 you can hear a stuttering rhythmic motif, the presence of which was inspired by Zappa’s “Eat That Question.”And I think that clean tone guitar is in another long lost tuning.

Bipedal Foot
An odd interlude.

This is a dark and drifty piece that was likely largely influenced by Aphex Twin. The introduction has the sounds of digital gongs and analog reverb stunts. This is soundtrack music for falling down a space well.

See “Anticoins.”

Desired:Purity back cover