Talkin' About a Song- April 19 2018

I fell off the face of the Earth somewhere in March to move out of my old place and back to Calgary and I’m pleased to announce that I’m finally settled here. Apologies for the lack of content, but I’m back with a vengeance! I’ve actually settled into the title of “musician” as a career (something I’ve always been a little apprehensive about doing for some unknown reason). As a result of this, I’ve scheduled regular updates and content to hopefully establish something of an online presence. At very least I’ll be throwing things into the void of the internet and maybe when aliens look upon the ruins of our civilization years from now I can have a file in an archive in a distant galaxy. The dream!

Anyways, I thought I would look at some real rocking music today. At the end of last year Spotify told me my most listened to genre was “neo-psychedelic”, which is probably true! However I’ve really only talked about electronic-ish stuff so far, so I’d like to return to the electric guitar and the funky bass and the hitting of the drum skins like boom ka boom for this week’s song.

We’re taking a look at the UK based stoner/ rock/ psych-ish band The Dead Pirates, who’s 2016 album Highmare was one of my favorite albums that come out that year. The first song that I was introduced to off of this album was the track “Ugo”, but before I go into it I’d just like to say that the album as a whole is really quite spectacular. There’s nothing more satisfying than listening to an album that feels like it’s taking you on a journey, and Highmare is a fuzzy, dreamy cart ride through a fairground haunted house. It’s only heightened by the amazing Fleischer inspired artwork of it’s frontman Mc bess, which can also be seen in it’s wonderful animated form in the music video for “Ugo” (posted below, as always).

The first thing that really strikes me in “Ugo” is the wonderful and spooky guitar tones. Throughout the album the clean guitars especially have a wobbly, paranormal feel to them. The use of chorus, vibe and tremolo effects create a sound reminiscent of cheesy horror. That’s not to say that the songs are cheezy, in fact far from it. If anything it serves to strengthen the Fleischer inspired concepts. “Ugo” sounds like it would fit very nicely into a twisted, modern “Merrie Melodies”*, which is essentially the premise to the music video. I love it when a concept is realized on all fronts!

The synth parts in the song are lofty squares and sawtooth waves that sometimes emulate a theremin sound, again contributing to the spookiness (think Minne the Moocher). At certain points during the verse it almost sounds like a ghost going “oooOOOOOOOOOooooo”- much like in those early cartoons. A chorus of spooky folk- ghosts, skeletons and all sorts of ghouls!

I’d like to give special praise to the snare sound in this particular tune, which is simultaneously tight, but also with a nice washy decay. It fills up a lot of space (in a good way!) especially in the early verses. It really compliments the sound of the ride cymbal, which itself is a important pace setter.

Another aspect to be celebrated in “Ugo” is the use of dynamics. The connecting parts (between verses and choruses and vice versa) feel nice and sparse, the verses feel full, but clean- like a dark presence lingering in the shadows waiting to jump out. Jump out they do in the choruses which feel more full and sinister. The most intense dynamic shift is saved for the end of the song, wherein the synth and bass swells and the guitars burst from their clean confines into a delightful stereo fuzz array. If the beginning of the song is being stalked by a dark presence, by the end the presence has the listener firmly in hand- ready to rip their souls out through their ears.

Finally I’d like to talk about the vocals, which are both cheeky and also a little cautionary. In the verses there’s a low mixed backup that mainly stays in the upper range- you can hear it best at the end of lines. Like the synth, it definitely sounds very much like a spooky support. The final words in the song in the last chorus feel good and punchy with lots of character. One of the things I really appreciate about The Dead Pirates is that they don’t shy away from the accent on the lead singer. I love hearing different accents in music! It makes listening to the music so interesting!

Thanks again for tuning in! Hopefully I’ll be on top of writing these on Thursdays- or at very least having a good excuse for missing one or two. It’s going to be a very busy summer for me!

Love Connor HD

*It should be noted that the MC bess also operates the “Dirty Melodies” label, a clever nod once again to Fleischer.

Music Video for Ugo

Talkin' About a Song- March 2 2018

Oops! I got really busy kind of out of the blue and neglected to make a couple of song posts. I’m sorry everyone! Please forgive this busy bee.

For this week I’m starting my dive into the wild works of Thomas Fec, AKA, Tobacco, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Demon Queen, and a slew of others. Those who know me know that the music that Fec makes is some of my most #1 absolute yum-yum favorite music that’s come out in the past 20 or so years. There’s something about the gooey blend of pop, electronic, psychedelic, lo-fi goodness that speaks to me as a musician and as an experimental artist. Thomas Fec will be a pretty frequent feature in these articles, believe me.

One of the things that has really invested me in all of Fec’s music is his sonic consistency. He’s carved a wonderfully unique sound that he applies to all of his projects. That being said, each one of his projects is unique in their sounds and influences- BMSR is much more pop oriented, whereas Tobacco is much darker and more experimental. All of his music has his sonic signature on it, yet it’s all fairly different.

I was lucky enough to see Tobacco twice in Chicago for Riot Fest 2017- Once in a little club right by Wrigley Field and again on stage at the festival grounds. The first show was incredibly intimate- it reminded me of many of the local shows that happen in basements and small bars around Lethbridge. Fec performed only with one other musician for this show, and for the most part they played synths and samples that were very similar to what one would find on their albums. Between the beautiful synths and the eerie visuals (akin to what you will see if you check out the music video below) it was quite the performance.

The second show was on the main stage of the festival grounds, and for this performance Tobacco presented itself as a full band- at least 3 keyboardists, a bassist (two if you count the bass that Fec uses to control his vocoder) and a live drummer. While the songs were the same as the ones that were played the night before, the experience and performance was totally different! There was so much energy and power behind all of the instruments and textures. I think it really solidified in my mind how important venue context can be when performing- both shows were terrific because there was thought put into the spaces that were being performed in.

Man, that was kind of a tangent! That’s what happens when I get started talking about Fec. There’s so much to appreciate. Anyways, let’s get into the dang music already!

I thought I’d start off with a song from Tobacco off of the 2016 release Sweatbox Dynasty- a tune by the name of “Warlock Mary”.

The entirety of Sweatbox Dynasty is a masterclass in experimental tape based recording, and while I’d like to talk about the album as a whole another time, I think It’s important to take note of the lead up to “Warlock Mary”. There’s a break in the previous track, “Dimensional Hum”, a brief stop right at the end where the listener is left to listen to the noise of the playback machine. Fec’s tape decks are arguably one of his most important instruments, and the noise created by them is an inherent characteristic in all of his music. That break is followed by a single bars of a unique drum beat, and then we are swooped into a different tempo and into the opening bass line for “Warlock Mary”.

There’s a tape hiss throughout the song that holds all the instruments together, and at various times one of the synthesizers playing the melody sounds like it’s on the verge of breaking down, flickering into different parts of the stereo field. The vocals in the verse are low and centralized- they melt together with the accompanying synths, which serve to harmonize and accent the music. The music blooms every time the vocals come in, creating a really interesting dynamic range.

At only one point in the song do the vocals move to the more middle frequencies (albeit a low middle), and are accompanied by a bouncy and wobbly synth. Again, the synth sounds like it’s struggling to keep up with the melody, falling slightly behind the beat in places. This creates a sense of sluggishness, like wading through a swamp of goo.

Fec’s ability to create very dynamic sounding drum machines through processing is a favorite element of mine. I’m not sure if he uses old tape or manually creates little inconsistencies in his beats, but there’s a real beauty to having a machine designed to sound quantized and perfect sound a little dirty and unnatural. I find if I focus on the hi-hats they seem to bounce around in stereo and clip a little bit- just enough to create a real dynamism.

Finally, the ending swell is the climax that all other swells in this song seem to be just shy of reaching. There’s a real sense of closure with the final three chords, and it couldn’t be more perfect that the final chord of the song begins to clip and distort. It’s simultaneously a cry for relief and a death sigh. These final chords are really leaned into in the live versions of this song as well- I’ve included a live version I really like below from good old KEXP.

As I said before this is probably just an introduction to the wild world of Fec’s music, and I could go on for hours analyzing every song on Sweatbox Dynasty. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame tweeted that Sweatbox Dynasty was his record of the year for 2016, and soon after Tobacco and NIN did a tour together (coincidence?). I think there’s a lot more complexity to Fec’s music than what some people initially hear. There’s a real respect for not only the music, but the sounds of the instruments and the medium with which this music is recorded. I’d be lying if I said Fec wasn’t one of my main inspirations for tape experimentation*.

Thanks for joining me on another song! I have some exciting news regarding my own artistic practice- I’m starting construction on a new Cosmo Duff suit that should be full of sounds, effects and processors equipped to blow audiences away. I intend to track my progress here on this blog, so make sure you’re following on the many Connor Makes Noise platforms.

Love you folks!

Connor HD

*Side note- I’m up to 3 reel-to-reels and 5 cassette decks. I love that through experimentation each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and, perhaps more importantly, their own strange sonic fingerprints. I’m planning on doing an in depth look at some of the specific machines I own, and heck, if you or someone you love has a sad playback machine that need’s a good home let me know! I love all my playback children.

Warlock Mary Music Video-

WARNING! Potentially NSFW? There’s a lot of clothed men in masks rubbing lotion all over each other in a sensual way. Use your best judgment.

Warlock Mary Live @ KEXP-

Talkin' About a Song- February 8 2018

Well, I made it back! I actually really look forward to writing these little articles- keeps my wits and my ears sharp.

This week I was inspired by the emergency weather alert that woke me up to tell me that there are going to be nightmarish snow storms in my area. The skies are already a melancholic grey, so my thoughts turned to the most upbeat melancholy music I know: the exceptionally talented and beautifully strange Jerry Paper.

I think one of the things that attracts me so much to Jerry Paper’s music is his ability to create such clean recordings, but add really unique and off-kilter elements. Every instrument has a really clear cut place in the mix, and no instrument has a terribly long decay. Add to that the very subtle and restrictive use of reverb and you have some masterfully layered pop tracks.

This week I’d like to look at the track “Chameleon World” off of his 2014 release Big Pop for Chameleon World.

The first time I listened to Jerry Paper’s discography I very ignorantly assumed that all the instrumentation was done on a Casio or an equivalently simple keyboard*- part of the magic of Jerry Paper’s music is that it sounds like the best factory preset keyboard demo you’ve ever heard. There’s a lot more complexity to appreciate in Jerry Paper’s compositions and songwriting. It was with Chameleon World that this first really began to sink in for me.

The song’s instruments consist of strangely imperfect replications of real instruments- the melody line simulates a very digital strumming guitar, the bass is quick and plucky, the drums have a telltale white noise on the hi-hats. The chorus leaps into a wide stereo field with with a kind of de-tuned acoustic guitar sound. There’s one chord that really sticks in my heart-right after the backup vocals echo “Chameleon!” the first time- a little augmentation; an auditory question of sorts- that is immediately answered with an exceptionally satisfying resolution (“Chameleon World!”)

The piano solo also fascinates me in particular in this song. Sonicly, the piano sound is only a stone’s throw away from the sound of the guitar strumming, but with a harsher attack. Yet, to my ears, they translate as two very different instruments. Perhaps this is the auditory equivalent of our brains’ want to fill in spaces when looking at animations. My brain wants so badly to attribute these sounds to actual instruments it just grabs the recognition best suited to the sounds I’m hearing. It reminds me of a preset on my Roland JD-800 called “LA Rhodes”.

Aside from the actual instrumentation, the most striking element to Jerry Paper’s songs is his low, droning vocals. The vocals are part post-punk baritone, part sad-person sighs of consignment, part straight-to-VHS spiritual guru. The choice to inhabit this frequency range is a bold one to be sure, and could explain why so many of the instruments in the mix are panned outwards. The vocals seem to be the island in the middle of Jerry Paper’s sad and dancy waves. Lyrically I love how Jerry Paper milks every line, bobbing and weaving from one note to the next. This is especially apparent in the chorus, when he sings “Can’t discern // The difference // Between the code // and my world”.

Interestingly enough, his live performances (at least as of 2017)  are with a full band, and his singing, while still morose, reads more as cheesy lounge singer. I love it! I love when musicians are willing to take risks and differentiate their recorded material from how they perform it. The core of the song is still there, there’s just added spice and fun. I think in this case the music really benefits from it, and it certainly contributes to his pop persona. I’ve included a video of a live performance of Chameleon World below so you can experience it for yourselves.

Hopefully you’ve listened to the song through at least once by now, and if you really dig what Jerry Paper’s up to, I highly recommend buying his discography on bandcamp (its also on Spotify, but there’s no harm in supporting the artist directly). I also recommend downloading his surreal companion game to this specific album, which I will also include in the links below.

Thanks for reading! I’m off to wrap myself in a big blanket burrito. I hope these articles are interesting and enjoyable to romp your eyes across.

-Connor HD

Jerry Paper Bandcamp: https://jerrypaper.bandcamp.com/

Chameleon World Game: http://bozoendeavors.solutions/download/

*GEAR TALK: I would find out, much later, that among the various gear in Jerry Paper’s little home studio are many very nice vintage Roland products- the ever lusted after Space Echo RE-201, a Juno of some sort (I think a 106), a Cr-8000 CompuRhythm (Swoon!) and some kind of little Korg or similar analog synth.**

**Why does specific gear fascinate me so? Maybe I’ll write a whole article on how much I love the mechanical design of vintage and unique music equipment. I’ve been kept up at night thinking about the beautiful wood paneling and sliders of the TR-77.

Talkin' About a Song- February 1st 2018

I’ve decided to try something new starting today- once a week I’d like to talk about a song that’s on my mind. As of now there’s not really a format to the writing, I’m just going to pick a tune and talk about why I like it. Here we go!

This week’s song is James Blake’s brand new (as of Jan 25th) track “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead”.

I’ve always admired Blake’s fearlessness in experimentation. Every musical decision he makes in his music feels so deliberate. For someone with such a beautiful voice, he sure doesn’t refrain from effecting and chopping it up to create immensely interesting melodies and, in this case rhythms.

One of the first things I really enjoyed when I first heard this song was the varying frequencies of soft noise accompanying the high, percussive melody. It sounds like he may have sampled lightly tapping a bowl and pitch shifting the sample to create this line. It’s no secret that I have a deep respect for musicians who do not fear noise, be it self created or from outboard equipment such as tape machines.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of this song is Blake’s chopping and pitch shifting of his vocals. There is such a methodical process to these vocals- an exact consideration for when to chop and splice. It reminds me of bumping an old CD Walkman and hearing the track skip. In addition, there are splices that consist solely of inhales, or of noise created by Blake’s mouth as he prepares to sing the next note. This, to me, creates a sense of restless anxiety- a tossing and turning in the middle of the night.

In much of my research and practice I love to talk about the use of imperfect replication as an viable musical choice. It is a choice that helps when I write more experimental music, and With “If The Car Beside You Moves Ahead” it finds a place in a more “pop*” oriented  style. It’s really refreshing to see these worlds collide! I really think that one of the most important jobs of creating experimental music is to take weird ideas to the furthest extremes possible, and then consider how every step along the way could be useful, be it in terms of future experimental work or in the world of music as a whole.

There’s an immensely powerful moment at around the 2:29 mark where the only stable vocals of the song come in. Once again Blake’s familiar high chest/ falsetto vocals are absent in place of low, drawn out vocal lines. This creates a moment of stability- a pause to think in an otherwise sporadic and unstable tune. It gives me a crazy shiver every time it happens!

As a final thought I want to just say that at the music video is a spectacular parallel to the music- check it out below, and feel free to strike up a discussion if you so feel it! 

I’ll see you next week!

-Connor HD

*I use the term “pop” very loosely here- and more so in relation to where Blake’s past music has been categorized. Fans of the show will know that personally I believe the boxing of music through genre is becoming more and more obsolete- especially for artists that pull from a great deal of styles and influences.

2018- A Year of Exploration and Discovery

2018 started with a real bang for me. I had just come off of a week long tour with the band Bummer Club across Alberta, wrapping up our last date on New Year's with all of our friends. I felt inspired. I felt ready to create. Then I found out my studio in Lethbridge had flooded while I was away.

Oof.

Some music god must have been looking out for me though, as thankfully very little of the gear in the studio was damaged at all. This meant, however, that I now had no place to really make or create music, so I packed up a bare bones kit of gear and headed to Calgary to live with my family until the renovations of the house could be completed. As of this writing I'm still not sure when I'll be able to return home.

Despite this I've tried my best to continue to be productive, and while my presence online has been a bit lacking, I've kept myself busy meeting with musical friends in the city and various events that I can lend my musical/ engineering abilities to. Just this weekend I wrote some music for a game created at the Calgary chapter of the Global Game Jam (the title track you can hear in the "Noise" section of this site). 

I finally feel like I've settled into something of a routine here and I'm ready to get started on the most demanding project I've ever taken on. I'm a little nervous, but mostly excited to work on a piece of art that I really believe in. I'll be (hopefully) working with some of the most driven and passionate artists in Canada on an amazing bit of music. On top of this, I'm developing something of a schedule for releasing content- music, videos, posts and the like. I want to be more present online and in my professional life as a musician. Look out for cool and/or weird stuff from yours truly very soon! 

Thanks to everyone who continues to support me in my strange and beautiful journey. I have a lot of love for my friends and family. 

Connor HD

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Zero Gravity Explorations of Nostalgia, Decay and Human-Technology

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Zero Gravity Explorations of Nostalgia, Decay, and Human-Technology initiated in the Canadian Prairies. Contemporary experimental electronic musician (CEEM) composer, scholar, and performer Connor Harvey-Derbyshire engages a year-long sonic project in the City of Ohm.


PRESS RELEASE
2017/11/28
November 28, 2017 – Lethbridge/Calgary

In the City of Ohm, society has transferred their collective consciousness into electrical and power transmissions. Those left behind to maintain the technology, filled with envy, abandon the experiment and the system. In a flawed, degrading, and unreliable soundscape, Cosmo Duff on Terra Firma explores the City whose demise is not apocalyptic, but untethered, exposed, aschematic. Supported by Canada Council for the Arts in the Explore & Create grants category, the City of Ohm signal boosts to a national and global community of CEEM musicians and project architects in Lethbridge, Calgary, Montreal, Boston, Pittsburg, San Francisco, New York, Berlin, London, and Japan.

An alumni of the University of Lethbridge Bachelor of Music – Digital Audio Arts (2017), Harvey-Derbyshire utilizes obsolete music technologies; expression-based improvised performance; experimental composition and scoring; analogue video and glitch manipulation; and, synthesis as a part of his alter ego Cosmo Duff.

Over the past 12-years, Harvey-Derbyshire has recorded and produced a diverse catalogue of albums, award-winning projects, and commissions. He has worked across multiple platforms including independent, mainstream, live, and recorded music, film, theatre, improv, print, and
animation in Canada and the United States. He’s also collaborated on scholarly projects in the fine arts and digital humanities, and is an inventor of embodied instruments and signal processors.

He researches post WWII experimental music, apparatus-functionary creative action, and music technology lineage -- including this year’s 40th anniversary of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, an album that established an archetype for experimental electronic music.

Bernie May - Director, Communications (English/Duetsch)
Cell: 403-875- 7586
E-mail: duffdecay@gmail.com

Connor HD is grateful to be a creative on the ancestral and traditional Indigenous territories of the Blackfoot and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, the Piikani, the Kainai, the Tsuu T'ina and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations. This geography is also home to the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region III.

With thanks to:

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