The System performed at Milwaukee Summerfest last thursday. Special thanks to Paul Pesco for arranging the gig and playing Guitar and BVs with Mic and I. Also on stage with us doing some incredibly funky scratching was Cody Cassiero. Doing more concerts this summer including New York City The Latin Quarter July 26.
And here are a few pictures of my keyboard rigs past and present.
Last night I was laying there sleepless thinking about the affairs of the day. I had called my music publisher in search of a copy of a System song Mic Murphy and I had done called “Why you Wanna Hurt Me”. It was a B side of a single from our album Rhythm and Romance. In the process, Peter, who is curator of the music library at Sony/ATV/EMI publishing, told me that he had just been listening to “Juicy Fruit” a song I had done quite bit of synthesizer arranging and playing on. Juicy Fruit’s track had also become “Juicy” by Notorious BIG a few years later.
That got me thinking about musical devices. In Juicy Fruit I had come up with an out of tempo arpeggio-like ascending pattern that, now that I think of it, was very thematic with the subject matter of the original song. Slowing the tempo of the DSX sequencer down and starting very slowly I played the pattern without quantization and gradually sped up as I approached the top of the keyboard and then repeated the pattern in the top octave a number of times thinking we would fade it out each time while recording to tape. Then I sped the tempo up. There were no delay FXs used.
I started thinking about the chord scale texture within the the arpeggiated pattern and how it related to the chords in “Juicy Fruit” and then my mind wandered to the last chord of Chopin’s Prelude in F major sometimes called the ‘Butterfly’ and the way it’s last chord is an F dominant 7 which makes it almost like the ending to a Blues/Rock song (written circa 1824 !!) and then the end of Chopin’s revolutionary etude rang in my head…My mind wandered around thinking of other musical perfections and anomolies that I celebrate the existence of….and then I suddenly felt very alone. Was I the only one left who thought about this stuff? In a world filled with time stretched ascending portamento-izes buildups to drops that impact with sub bass, are the subtleties and the possibilities of intricate beauty and meaning in harmonic motion being left behind in favor of simplistic manipulation of kinda cool features of software programs??
I am definitely in favor of computer related technical virtuosity and rhythmic urgency and feel. I believe in using technical possibilities even if they involve no skill or playing technique. If it sounds good who cares! I have spent many an hour trying to get the perfect sweep or noise crash into or out of a chorus or verse or alternatively have found it in an instant in a library or a turn of a knob or slight mouse movement. I know that pure excitement has its place and some songs or musical entities are meant to be just that. But am I alone in my appreciation of an emotionally stirring musical chord/melodic progression or simple yet profound harmonically derived musical device. If you feel as I feel (anyone see V for Vendetta? 😉 )
than it’s time to write more music!! We can move it all forward with just one hit song.
Playing technique, harmonic knowledge and fluency combined with a thorough understanding and fluidity on your software instruments and DAW will win the day.
After seeing some other reviews of what was big at the NAMM show this year I thought I might make a list of some of the gear that I thought was worth mentioning. Of course this is from my personal perspective. Although I often work on my laptop without any external synths I still lust after external gear. I appreciate the sonic differences and performability of a musical instrument that is freed from the limitations of buffer/processor size latency and screen two dimensional touch-ability restrictions and use them when I am in my studio or, travel budget permitting, on stage.
Here’s my list:
1.Elektron Analog Four- Super sounding!
2.Schmidt Synthesizer- not available yet but sooo amazing..Quite expensive….quite
3.The Moog booth- that special Moog sound- Meeting Bernie Warrell
4. Sledge Synthesizer- look it up-sounds great-wish I was messing with one right now..
5.The lack of some of the bigger software companies was noticeable. I think that’s a mistake as there are many musicians who attend the show.. but…understandable if monetary profit is your perspective….i guess…
6. “Mariachi Divas” live stage show- I loved the singers, orchestra and orchestrations….and the fact that they exist and perform. Thank you!
7. Playing a Fazioli piano
8.interesting software-Izotope Iris, Air Vacuum Pro and Loom,SoniVox plugins-looking forward to trying the demos
9.Radikal Accelerator Synth-Wow
10. Cool Controllers- Novation,Keith McmMillen QuNeo and QuNexus, Livid
11.Apogee Thunderbridge-a symphony card in a box-connects your laptop (with thunderbolt port) to apogee interfaces. Yea!!
I’m sure I missed seeing great things or didn’t take proper note of others…or was just talking to friends when I should have been paying attention but anyway there’s my list.
Here we go. System Overload! Even with more powerful processors,more ram more efficient programs we still manage to achieve SYSTEM OVERLOAD.
And the “first single” is System Overload. So…harmonic analysis..Key of C minor (with a strong possibility that it might be in Fminor(dorian) or even Eb major) but it hangs out on those Ab and Bb chords which always hit me as funky lydian mode (in the key of Eb major…relative major to C minor of course. Mic’s vocal melody is what pins it to being C minor. The “Pre Chorus” changes key area to B major…it does that G# minor(relative minor of B) to G# major(or call it Ab major)( it’s parallel major) type thing that so many songs did…and might do again in the future. Only time will tell. I think of them as borrowed chords from the key a minor 3rd up or down. anyway… The Pre chorus and the Chorus use the chords E major7 F# major (which are the 4 and 5 chords in B major) going to G# major, 3 times and then E major7 F# major Db major Eb7(those being the 4 and 5 chords in the key of G#(or Ab) . The bridge is in the key of B IV VI min/3rd V7 of VI VI or E Abminor/B Eb7 Ab minor. The bridge ends on the Eb7 and the reintro, which is back in C minor, takes over, leading back into the out chorus’
In the System’s music now and in the past Mic glues the harmonic content together with his melodic sense: which always makes perfect melodic sense!
More Harmonic/Melodic analysis coming up.
3. could you point out some specific instances in this record where choice of sounds impacted the musical product
The sound ‘Incoming” for Maschine was the starting point of this track. The ability to quickly hear samples at different pitches using the pads on a controller rather than the traditional keys of a 12 tone piano keyboard gave the idea for the intro and breakdown of Motha.
#2 of a series of questions I was asked about our new song Motha Ungh Ungh. Please read the post below this for the 1st question.
What musical influences would you cite which led you to its outcome?
Many musical influences led to the track of “Motha”. The chord progression from Teddy Pendergast’s song ‘Close The Door” comes to mind as a song that used a similar chord progression but there are many more engrained in the harmonic grid of neurons in my head. Much Reggae music can be thought of in 1/2 time or double time and I think of Motha as being 43 BPM and 86 BPM at the same time. Imaginative sound programmers working with/for musical software and instrument companies have contributed so much and influenced me and so many others. For instance a sound like “Incoming” from NI maschine, which starts with a bending pitch and various modulations finally settling on a final pitch, when spread across a keyboard or pad controller, can spawn many compositional ideas.
As a song takes shape it is influenced and shaped by its own components. It sometimes literally seems to shape itself. When Mic sends a lyric idea or when he sends me a lyric and melody written to a track, that triggers new ideas for where to proceed with the song and it’s production.
Some of you may know that Mic Murphy and I (The System) have released an A+B sided single. I was asked a series of questions about the song Motha Ungh Ungh. I will attempt to answer them over the next few days.
1. Please describe the making of the new System single Mother Ungh Ungh i.e. process, equipment, chord stucture, sound evolution
The musical track for Motha Ungh Ungh started with an idea from a group of sounds I put together from the NI Maschine library. Some of them were already grouped into sets especially the percussion/drum sounds. it was originally programmed while “on the road” in a hotel room in NYC using a mac laptop, midi keyboard controller and the Maschine software and controller. I had just gotten fluent with the Maschine software and was determined to derive tracks for song ideas from it.
I wanted to use (as I have for much of my life)”abstract sounds that, combined, would end up being Rhythmic/ Harmonic and Melodic when put together but not particularly identifiable as drums bass keys or guitar. Of course what we ended up with is somewhat that. For instance, before we sent out an early version of the song to some mixers, who had comments, there was no hihat. There was only the beeping sine sound….but.. we added a hihat…oh well. With all my dreaming of escaping traditional approaches most of the time I give in to the idea of using every other finger on my hand on every other key and playing a 3 note chord….how boring 😉 sigh…just can’t escape convention. Anyway, it also came into my head that we could have a song that used a variation on the IV(4) chord V (5)chord going to VI (6)MAJOR instead of VI (6)minor that so many songs have had lately. The part of my brain that appreciates harmonic changes of color has never stopped being fascinated with this one in particular. It involves the ever present relationship between keys a minor third apart.
So, the verse just hangs out on the IV(4) and V(5) chord (we are in the key of C) but the bass notes every 2 or 4 bars(depending on how you are counting) play an “a to a f#”. this suggests “A min to F#7”. F#7 is the tritone substitution for C7 which is the V7 of IV(4) in the key of C. ….This must be sooo boring to some people. Sorry!!!!…but it is interesting to some…i hope.
The Pre Chorus changes to C minor. The chords are” C min,G min7,C min, and ends with a C major:ending with a brilliant little bass note lead in brought to you by Mic Murphy that suggests an E7sus (V7 in the Key of A).
The Chorus starts on the IV(4) chord of C major but resolves to A major at the end of each phrase, but a bass lick plays “d wah wah wah e c” and brings it back to C major each time.
Backing up a bit after Mic wrote the brilliant melody and lyrics and sent me a 2 mix I opened the maschine project in Logic and added other parts including the intro which is minor 3rd intervals ascending in major 3rds. We used the intro in the middle of the song (a half step up) under some killer stutter edits done by our friend and associate Tim Kvasnosky.
Some other sounds used on Motha were from Diva a great softsynth by U-He and the synth solo was from Razor by NI. The mighty synth tom fills are courtesy of Steve Wolf. He gave us a choice or 3 FX levels but we found that all 3 tracks full on worked great. Brad Fischer mixed at Canyon Reverb Studios.