Grim Christmas

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Grim Christmas

grimchristmas.bandcamp.com

 

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Backstory:

Just over five years ago, while walking on the beach on a gloomy November day in Aberdeen, I had a thought: “What would Christmas carols sound like if they were turned into black metal?”

It was just a passing idea. I think the possibilities of playing around in that style were on my mind because I had just finished recording A God or an Other’s debut album, Towers of Silence, which heavily drew from the black metal lexicon. For whatever reason, the idea for this album really stuck with me. I knew I had to make it.

Obviously it had to be released during the Christmas season, but it was definitely too late to do so that year. There was no way I could arrange, record, and release it in just a few weeks. I could have recorded it and waited until the next year to release it, but I’ve always found it unpleasant to sit on finished releases for more than a short period of time. So I decided to wait ten or eleven months to begin.

Well, the next year came and the same thing happened; by the time I finally started considering working on it, it was too late to begin. This process repeated for the next four years. I was annoyed with myself each year, but now I recognize it’s for the best. Shortly after I came up with the idea, I ended up joining A God or an Other as the band’s drummer, which dramatically increased my blast beat chops over time. Half a year after joining, I started contributing vocals as well. My bandmates were really good at tremolo picking on guitar, and so being in the band also encouraged me to develop that skill. All those hours of practice within the style really helped bring about a superior end result compared to what this album would have been if I had recorded when the idea first struck me.

One other benefit to waiting 5 years between the inception of the idea and its execution is that I spent a lot of time between then and now expanding my understanding of music theory. This made the transmogrification process much more successful than I think it would have been in 2013.

Anyway, inspiration finally struck in September. I knew that this was the year. But there were two things making it a little more challenging than it normally would have been. First, I was insanely swamped with overtime at work. Second, my wife and I had (and still have) a newborn at home, and taking care of him requires quite a bit of work. My time was quite limited. But when I feel compelled by those mysterious creative forces to make something, I have to do it. So I found time. Most of this album was arranged and recorded between the hours of 5 A.M. and 6 A.M. on weekdays before I headed off to work. The process was a little rough but totally worth it.

Process Notes:

I picked public domain songs purely for legal reasons, as I would like to be able to use these in any way that I may see fit in the future.

In order for a song to be picked, it had to be originally written in a major key, as it would not be as dramatic or as fun of a transformation to do a song that was originally composed in a minor key. I really wanted to play around with some of the more exotic minor scales instead of exclusively using aeolian mode. It was fun to utilize sounds like neapolitan minor and harmonic minor and to build some four part harmonies with them.

The last qualification for picking songs is difficult to explain. They had to make me feel some sort of… resonance… within myself. This has to do with the history of my early life. I’m not a Christian, but I was raised Catholic, and that upbringing had quite an impact on me. I heard these songs so many times in mass over the years. It is enjoyable for me to hear these representations of that part of my life turned around into something that is now meaningful to me in a new and very different way.

Until 2013, I was certain I would never make a Christmas album. Now here we are. Life is strange.

I hope you enjoy listening to it.

 

Cover art by my wife, Laura Lervold.

 

 

Cassettes are available through the Bandcamp and Big Name Records.

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A God or an Other – Chaotic Symbiosis

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A God or an Other – Chaotic Symbiosis

agodoranother.bandcamp.com

6 tracks (35 minutes) of crusty, atmospheric post black metal. Tracked, edited, mixed, and mastered at Big Name.

This is our final release, thus marking the end of an era of my life (2013-2018). I’m currently working on a retrospective writeup detailing the creation of this album and my experiences in the band overall. This post is a placeholder for that.

Cassettes and CDs were printed in the print shop and are available via Bandcamp.

Morrow – The Weight of These Feathers

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Morrow – The Weight of These Feathers

morrowofficial.bandcamp.com

I engineered this album for Seattle’s Morrow. Midway through the recording process, I was asked to write and record my own basslines as well. They had a bass player when we first began tracking, but he dropped out of the project right before he was supposed to record his parts. As a result, I was asked to step in. I was given full creative freedom with my bass contributions.

The band spent three years composing and demoing these songs, and then one year in the studio with me recording the real deal. Being able to add my own spin to this album was a pleasure and I look forward to seeing what these guys go on to create in the future.

For people who enjoy melodic/progressive/atmospheric black metal.

Heavy Blog Is Heavy Exclusive Premiere: Morrow – Elysium I

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EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Enter Paradise With Morrow’s “Elysium I”

This was a nice surprise to find today. I produced this recording and played bass on it for my friends in Morrow. We worked on it throughout the entire last year.

As a side note, I’ve finished my work on 7 recordings since moving to Colorado in March and so far only one has seen its full release. So I have a slew of new stuff on the way. This one comes out July 21st and I’m super proud of it and excited to see it get out into the world.

LeBaron – Stambaugh Sessions (10 Year Retrospective)

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LeBaron – Stambaugh Sessions

lebaronrwc.bandcamp.com

On this day 10 years ago, LeBaron’s final recording session took place.

“What’s LeBaron?” You might be asking.

LeBaron was a music experiment that arose organically in the summer of 2007. The band consisted* of Kol Fenton, Stephen Navarrete, and me. It lasted only a few months. The album that we put together, Stambaugh Sessions, is the oldest release that I played on that I still thoroughly appreciate to this day.

The series of recording dates that comprise Stambaugh Sessions began spontaneously. One day, the three of us ended up hanging out in our buddy Anthony’s garage, which had been given the name Chestnut St. ArmsBella Drive, Steve and Kol’s band with Daniel Hendrickson (who I later collaborated with in Phantom Float), practiced there. As a result of that arrangement, Steve and Kol were there frequently, and I would come by occasionally to see what my friends were up to. That’s how this place was. If you made music there, you were likely to have an audience of a few people hanging out while you worked on stuff.

Split the kit!
Split the kit! Chestnut St. Arms in action.

Somehow Steve and I got the idea to split his drumkit up and each play half of it. In my corner of the space, I flipped the kick drum onto its side and played it with sticks, along with a snare and a ride. Over in his corner, Steve set up a snare, two toms, and a small crash. The hi-hat was positioned so that either of us could use the foot control or hit it with sticks.

We messed around jamming for a bit. Kol grabbed a guitar, turned on an amp, and… suddenly LeBaron was happening.

We played for maybe twenty minutes with a few friends watching. As we finished up, someone who was sitting in a recliner on the opposite side of the room (I can’t remember who at this point) said, “That was actually really interesting. You should come back with your recording stuff and do that again.”

So we did.

In total, there were 4 recording sessions. Each one had a very limited audience, but enough to give it a little bit of “event” energy. Now that it’s been so long, I’m not sure who witnessed these performances.

Each session was unique in some way. There are clues in the songs as to which songs were recorded on which occasion. The fretless bass was only used one of the days. The pedalboard was significantly expanded on one of the sessions, bringing in some extra sounds. On a different date, we allowed Aqua Teen Hunger Force to play on the TV in the background of all the recordings. During our third session, Ryan Moyer joined us and played an empty wine bottle with a drum stick. The rototoms and samples are present in some, but not all, of the recordings. And there was a bugle at one point.

Each time we would finish a take, we would listen back to it and see what we had just done. Some songs were titled immediately as we were listening back for the first time. “This part sounds like when you’re doing badly Taking a Test and getting more and more frustrated.” A few were actually given titles before we even played them. “Alright. This next song is called Gangsta Situations no matter what it sounds like.” Most of them were left untitled at this point, though.

Steve and Kol on tour with their main band at the time, Bella Drive. Apparently, never once have the three of us been in the same photo.
Steve and Kol on tour with their main band at the time, Bella Drive. After searching thoroughly I’ve come to the conclusion that the three of us have never appeared in the same photo.

I think we settled on the name LeBaron during our first recording session. The conversation went something like this:

  • “Okay, I have an idea. What’s the most non-descript, not-noteworthy car that you can think of? Something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive, but also wouldn’t be excited to drive at all?”
  • “…I dunno. A Chrysler LeBaron?”
  • “That’s IT! Boxy piece of junk.”
  • “Hmm… LeBaron. I like it.”

After our final recording session, I took the Tascam 4 track cassette recorder we had been using back to my house and digitized all of our tapes. We posted the files online, but had to cycle them out over time since Myspace would only let you post 3 songs at once. Within a few months we had moved on, playing in our more traditional bands, and that was that.

But I wasn’t happy with how our work was left incomplete. The songs had never been properly compiled, mastered, and released. In 2010, after I moved to Washington, I decided it was finally time to work on it. This was when the songs were given an order, and also when all the then-untitled songs were given names. Hard for me to believe that’s now 7 years ago, and that it’s been 10 years since they were first recorded. Time flies.

* We decided shortly after our last session that LeBaron technically never ended. If the three of us ever end up playing together again in the future, it’s still LeBaron. We all live in different parts of the country now, but hey, you never know what could happen.

 

[syzygy] – [ouroboros]

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[syzygy] – [ouroboros]

syzygywa.bandcamp.com

 

To someone familiar with my solo releases, it might seem strange that this one has been put out under the same moniker as my album [visitor]. The two releases are almost diametrically opposed in terms of sound, but in my mind, they clearly belong to the same project.

What determines if something is [syzygy]? The project’s driving question is: “What can I do with only this?”

In the case of [visitor], the “only this” is my detuned, 80-year-old spinet piano and my fretless electric bass. In the case of [ouroboros], it is my Behringer Xenyx 1202 mixing board.

All of the sounds that are heard on this release were generated by only a mixing board. This was accomplished by routing the various outputs of the mixer back into the various inputs on the mixer, creating internal analog feedback loops. This is known as the “no-input mixer” technique.

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The Behringer Xenyx 1202 set up as a no-input mixer.

It’s a deceptively simple tactic. Though it seems like it should result in basic, abrasive feedback squelches, the reality is much cooler. The various signal routings through the mixing console interact with one another to create surprisingly complex waveforms.

Each mixer generates sounds unique to its hardware. This is one of the only situations I can think of where lower quality gear can have a huge advantage over higher quality gear: lower quality components tend to modify the waveform passing through them more than higher quality components do. As a result, when the waveforms sum back together, they coalesce into more chaotic wave-interference patterns (i.e. feedback loops).

Behringer is known for making gear focused more on economy than quality, so the Xenyx 1202 is perfect for this application. When you really crank the signals with this thing, especially the low frequencies, it overloads and creates fantastic drum-machine-like rhythms. It can also generate single notes that sound like an electronic synth, as well as more noisy blocks of sound. Hidden within it, I’ve found sounds reminiscent of motorcycles racing through tunnels, ringing analog phones, air raid sirens, scurrying mice, alarm systems, heavy machinery, ray guns, heartbeats, woodblocks, flutes, and much more. This device has a very dystopian palette.

 

An improvisation performed on the Xenyx 1202. This is similar to the form in which each track on [ouroboros] began. As you can see, no-input mixer improvs can sound kind of aimless, which is why I wanted to experiment with using them as the building blocks for sample-based composition instead. This video only demonstrates a few of the sounds that the mixer can generate.

 

The composition process:

  1. Each song started the same way as the improvisation above. I plugged in the mixer, hit record, and played for roughly 20 minutes. This part of the process is very reflexive and intuitive. You can’t really predict how the mixer will react to most changes that you make to the state of the board.
  2. After finishing the improvisation, I went in, listened for parts that I liked, and spliced up the take into dozens of shorter clips. Some of these worked very well as loops. Others worked as transition pieces between looped sections.
  3. At this point, I developed the general structure of each piece by arranging the various clips I had cut out.
  4. Next, I added layers:
    1. Some parts needed noisy layers, so I would find the right sound and apply it.
    2. Many parts needed chords or melodies. At this point, I used the type of feedback that sounds like an analog synth playing a single pitch. I recorded various pitches and applied them over the clips, sometimes layering groups of two or three to create harmonies and chords.
  5. Delay and panning were added to certain sections where I felt like they belonged.
  6. At this point, I rearranged the parts over and over until every part of the song played back in exactly the “right way.” (This was an intuitive process; there was no metric for what was “right” or “wrong” other than feeling it out.)

This is probably the only session I have done so far where I actually utilized the sound of a brickwall limiter as an effect. I use limiters on every session that I master, as well as on select parts of certain mixes, but I usually attempt to keep them as transparent as possible. These songs have the limiter set far beyond the normal levels I tend to use. This smashes the layers together, causing the tonal layers to take on the rhythmic characteristics of the noise layers underneath them.

 

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From the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, created in roughly the 3rd century CE.

Its inscription reads, “One is the Serpent which has its poison according to two compositions, and One is All and through it is All, and by it is All, and if you have not All, All is Nothing.”

While working on this project, I was struck by the idea that the no-input mixer is a sonic embodiment of the ouroboros: the snake that circles around, consuming its own tail. This symbol is ancient. It is first known to have been used in the 14th century BCE, and has been used by a plethora of spiritual traditions since.

Carl Jung said, “The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which… unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.”

The ouroboros symbolizes the universe’s nature of continual creation, destruction, and recreation. Its constant reinvention. The paradox of the non-conflicting dual nature of all things. The hidden oneness of the seeming duality between physical and mental worlds. The infinite. The shadow within.

I enlisted my partner Laura to paint the art and I think the piece is exactly right for the music. This isn’t related to the album, but as a side note, she’s currently doing an awesome 100-piece Instagram series of scenes and objects found around our house. It can be found at instagram.com/ladylervold. Check it out and give her a follow if you like what you see.

 

Final Notes / Other

One thing that I particularly enjoyed experimenting with while creating this recording was its inherent microtonality.* None of the notes on this recording were created using fixed pitch keys like you find on a keyboard. The no-input mixer is capable of producing an infinite range of pitches. Since I was free of 12 tone equal temperament tuning, I was able to step back and simply use my ears to find harmonies and chord progressions that I enjoyed without being stuck inside the rigid 12tet realm. The other side of the inherent microtonality of this process is found in the base layer in each song. When the mixing board develops complex waveform patterns, it doesn’t use any tuning theory. The harmonies it generates are pure physics and mathematics, and the intervals it spits out are not bound to 12 tone equal temperament tuning.

The other aspect that I really enjoyed playing around with while working on this was the appearance of high-denominator odd-meter rhythms (for example: 27/32). These are rhythms that can only be notated by using 32nd or 64th notes. You don’t often hear them in music because they are very difficult for humans to play accurately, especially at high speed. Complex feedback, however, has no aversion to them, so a lot of them ended up in the final compositions here.

 

* If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, see the “Microtonality” section of my Loiterer – Adrift writeup for some info. Or the Wikipedia article.

 

 

 

Released on Big Name Records – BNR1702
Available on cassette via the Big Name Records Webstore or Bandcamp.
Cassettes were printed in the Big Name print shop.

 

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Multitrack Video Series – June 2017

This is the second installment of my new Instagram multipanel-video series. These are quick original compositions that have no restriction on genre or instruments used.

This sentence is a link to my Instagram account. If you like what you see, please feel free to hit that follow button.

(If you don’t have Instagram, you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel. Or you can just come back here each month.)

 

AOL 3.0 – June 5, 2017


Not yet in Your Closet Hiding From an Enraged Yo-Yo Ma – June 8th, 2017


The Curling Champion of the World – June 16th, 2017


The View Was Pretty Nice up There, on the Roof of Arby’s – June 22nd, 2017


Clean Your Teeth on My Bones – June 27th, 2017