Layers

by Chris Beckstrom

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1.
07:03
2.
07:35
3.
07:14
4.
08:45
5.
06:19
6.
05:05
7.
8.
06:13

about

~~ featuring ~~

Chris Paquette - udu, congas (Mfuatano, Lasrar)
Ryan Andrews - pandeiro, congas (Mfuatano, Lasrar)
Garrett McGinn - electric bass (Mfuatano)
Shawn Bell - trombone (Bultande)
Jeff Moehle- drums (Lasrar)
Jevin Hunter - drums (Spår)
Chris Beckstrom - modular synthesizer, other synths, Hammond organ, Rhodes, Korg Volca Keys, sampling, woodwinds, melodica, drum set, glockenspiel, Yamaha WX5 wind controller, iPad, iPhone, production, compositions

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
ABOUT THE MUSIC

These songs were created over the course of many months; a longer period, in fact, than I've ever taken on a collection of music! I'm grateful to my great friends– Jeff, Jevin, Chris, Ryan, Garrett, and Shawn– who took the time to share some of their sounds. I also appreciate their willingness to record for me knowing that I could mangle their sounds beyond recognition. I recorded Shawn in the studio– everybody else sent me audio files via the internet. What a wondrous time in which we live!

This collection of compositions is the result of a specific mindset: to mix all the different sounds and styles I like to create something that is uniquely my own. That was also the approach with last year's "December;" I think this album takes it further. I've been on a quest for that "new sound"– I want to make music that sounds like nothing I've heard before, but also a combination of everything I've ever heard.

Another of my projects this year was building a modular synthesizer from scratch, which turned out to be a goldmine for strange and unusual sounds. Of course that was the whole idea! These beeps, bloops, percussive hits and drones can be found in every corner of every song here.

In the interest of sharing my thoughts about this music, here are my thoughts about each track:

1. Lasrar - I wanted to combine Herbie Hancock/Headhunters-style funk with abstract techno, peppered with synthesized explosions and laser sounds. I especially love the combination of Jeff on drumset, Chris on congas, and Ryan on pandeiro– I think it's a great contrast to all the synthesized colors.

2. Mfuatano - I've always been interested in sounds and rhythms that come from Africa ever since I encountered them through the music of Cuba. This track began with a percussive sequence on a synthesizer, which I later replaced with real hand drums (Chris on udu and Ryan on pandeiro sound great!). As I worked on this song it morphed into some sort of African samba. The addition of Garrett on bass was the icing on the cake– listen to that pocket!

3. Whopperjawed - This track began with a drum sequence. I spent a great deal of time sampling sounds from my modular, as well as a web browser-based modular synthesizer called Patchwork. I tossed about 100 of those sounds into the drum groove and suddenly I was getting close to this "new sound" I'm after.

4. Bultande - I love minimal techno. I also love the classic disco and proto-disco sounds of Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and the groovy explorations of Daft Punk. To keep the interest, the main melodic line is a series of notes that is of an uneven length; it repeats every 14 beats or so instead of every 16 (I don't remember the actual number). This causes it to sound, to me, refreshing each time you hear it– even though the exact same notes are happening. Something that is missing in minimal techno (perhaps by definition) is a nice melody and chords. I'm especially proud of the 32 bar "C" section and the melody on Rhodes. For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to have a muted trombone solo in the middle of all this synthesized craziness, and Shawn did a fabulous job.

5. Spår - This track combines my love of double ostinatos (two sounds playing similar interlocking lines) with "odd" time signatures. Most music is in a duple meter like 4/4– 4 beats per bar, but it's also fun to try other arrangements of meter. Spår starts in 7 with a pair of Rhodes lines imitating interlocking mbiras (kalimbas), then goes to 29 (7 + 7 + 7 + 8), then grooves in 4 for a while. The interlude-type sections are loosely-African inspired, sort of in 3 and 4 at the same time (typical of subsaharan African music). Jevin did a kickass job navigating the crazy meter changes and metric modulations I threw at him.

6. Beslag - This one also begins with a repeating rhythmic figure played by a bunch of percussive synth sounds. When the melody comes in (the Rhodes through a not-so-great pitch tracker) the song becomes a sort of bloopy trap jam.

7. We're Not Done Yet - Another example of blatant appropriation (and Chris Beckstrom-ization) of African rhythms and sounds– but hey, everybody loves clapping! The main content of the song was extremely influenced by Photay, especially his track "Reconstruct" (which I initially heard as the theme to FX's show "Man Seeking Woman"). I love his use of beeps and bloops and other weird sounds interspersed between more "normal-sounding" drum tracks.

8. Perro Negro - I came up with this 4 bar sequence on our out of tune upright piano more or less all at once (it just came out). Instead of adding a multitude of sections, I just repeated the sequence for the entire song. The organ solo was recorded in one take; I was trying to come up with variations on the melody, and ended up liking the extended solo so much I just stuck with that. I got the idea for the unusual snare drum sound from a recent Common song– I think the future of snare sounds is dull and pingy! The synth stuff happening in the background is my homemade modular playing a 10-step sequence while I manipulate the mixture of oscillators and filter cutoff (also recorded in one take). It took quite a while to get each step in tune (my synth has no quantization), and if you listen closely you can hear the pitches start to go out of tune by the end of the song. That's the analog sound!

sounds, techniques, ideas, and other musical things appropriated (stolen) from my favorite music:
– West African music in general, Ewe mbira music in particular
– Dub music, especially King Tubby
– Raymond Scott, the great grandfather of electronic music (if you haven't heard his stuff, check him out immediately!)
– J Dilla, one of the greatest producers, period. That rhythm tho!
– Herbie Hancock, Photay, Common, Pat Metheny, Steve Reich, Matthew Dear, Ricardo Villalobos, Richard Devine, Aphex Twin, Dan Deacon, Robert Glasper, Flying Lotus, Oumou Sangare, Fela Kuti, Surgeon, Juan Atkins, Robert Hood, Akufen, James Holden, Tyondai Braxton, Battles, Martial Solal, Daft Punk, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Morton Subotnick, Dr. Lonnie Smith

If you like anything on this album, please check out some of those artists above. There is nothing truly new in music, only a re-exploration and re-combination of what others have done. We are standing on the shoulders of giants!

credits

released October 1, 2015

created between January and October 2015

for more info about my DIY modular synthesizer:
hackaday.io/project/5826-diy-analog-modular-synthesizer cover design created with Lucas Crane's "Colorful Life" Chrome experiment: www.chromeexperiments.com/experiment/colorful-life the fantastic Patchwork web browser modular synthesizer:
petervandernoord.nl/patchwork/

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Chris Beckstrom Grand Rapids, Michigan

Fiercely eclectic music from the Michigan countryside.

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