7 songs (6 minutes) of powerviolence/crust. Drums tracked by Lorenzo Luna and Scott Asher at an unnamed studio. Guitars, bass, vocals, and samples tracked later at Big Name, where the EP was then edited and mixed. Mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege.
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. Arms. Bella 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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
At this point, I developed the general structure of each piece by arranging the various clips I had cut out.
Next, I added layers:
Some parts needed noisy layers, so I would find the right sound and apply it.
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.
Delay and panning were added to certain sections where I felt like they belonged.
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.
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.
The supposed band consists of members Hans Lederman (drums) and Ashleigh Milton (production) of New York City. Collectively they are known as Antiverb. Their release, General Purpose, is a 7″ disc of 180-grit sandpaper intended to be played on a turntable.
I was greatly amused by both the article and the EP’s concept, and upon completing my reading wondered if anyone had gone to the trouble of fleshing out the non-existent release. I entered “antiverb.bandcamp.com” in my address bar and found that no such page existed. “Antiverb band” on Google yielded no results either. I was honestly shocked that no one was using that name. At that moment I knew: I had to be the one to do it. I had to make this Bandcamp for the sake of the few other weirdos in the world who would read that article and think, “I wonder if anyone has made this into a Bandcamp.”
Anyway, to begin the process, I recorded the sound of a piece of sandpaper on a turntable. As someone who does a lot of work on my house, I happened to have it lying around, so I didn’t even need to hit Home Depot. Score.
As you can see in the video, the needle doesn’t move laterally while the sandpaper spins; it just sits in one position. This means that the sandpaper “record” would play continually until stopped by the listener. A computer program could be coded to replicate this endlessness, but Bandcamp only operates with standard audio files. An audio file can’t be infinite, so the digital recording of this EP needed a chosen length. The article states that the release is a 7″, so I decided to make the digital version 6 minutes long, as this is approaching how long a single side of a traditional 7″ record can be.
After recording and mastering the audio, I registered the Bandcamp page and uploaded the track. At this point I had to decide what to add for other content. I wanted to fill in as many of the fields as possible with information derived from the article. For the “about” section I took the brilliant Harold Zhou “New York Times” review that mentions using the EP to prep a shelf for staining. The artist bio was similarly taken from Lederman’s quote about the intent of the project.
For the credits, the band members’ names and roles were simple enough to fill in. The digital version really was recorded at Big Name, so I put that in there too. At this point I had exhausted the supply of pre-existing ideas. It was time to come up with some original content to fill out the rest of the page.
I used my scanner to scan more of the sandpaper that I had lying around. I was really worried about scratching my scanning bed, but as far as I can tell I got away with it. This scan was used for the album cover as well as the Bandcamp’s header and background. Next, for the artist photo, I used a picture of myself and Laura. I modified the image so our faces don’t show (so it’s not clearly just us) and then I added an overlay using the sandpaper I had just scanned because I thought that was funny.
The article mentioned a label releasing the EP, but did not give that label a name. So I had to come up with one. I chose Acquired Distaste Records; it just strikes me as a perfect noise-label name.
All that was left at this point was a few pictures of the physical release. I took a 7″ record sleeve and cut the piece of sandpaper down to the size of a booklet. Then, I used another piece to create a proper disc. The pictures were taken using the setup that I use to photograph everything for Big Name Records.
I created a fake Facebook for the band’s drummer, posted the link on the article’s page on their website, and watched a scant few plays roll in.
I actually think that if this were a real release, it would be genuinely interesting from a conceptual standpoint. The audio would be fully generative (i.e. each playthrough would be a completely unique waveform), but then, to take that concept to the next level and turn it on its head, the differences between listenings would be indiscernible to the listener. While most generative music is done via computer programming, this release would be different, as it would be the result of purely physical processes. The infinite playback of the disc is also noteworthy; there are plenty of releases with run-out grooves where something repeats over and over again at the end of the disc, but I personally have never seen any kind of disc where the entirety of the audio is infinite. Also, as noted in the article, the disc would likely permanently damage the needle of the listener’s record player. The listener would have to make the conscious choice to put their equipment in harm’s way in order to experience the artist’s piece.
The EP, if real, would be construed by many as extremely pretentious, which would make those people angry. Of course, this is the crux of the satire piece. The pretentiousness, however, (in my humble opinion) could be cool provided that the artist had a solid sense of how ridiculous their piece really was and also provided that they had a good sense of humor about it. The release itself would be comedy gold in its own right, and would be a solid of a jab at noise music’s more absurd artists (while also joining the ranks of noise music’s more absurd artists!). As a final note here, I love that it really does sound kind of cool when you listen to it. I absolutely did not expect to feel that way when I first put the sandpaper on the turntable. The playback sounds exactly like how the surface of sandpaper feels.
It has been brought to my attention that it could be helpful if I lay out a short list of all the reasons why I took the time to do this.
I thought that the idea presented in the article was genuinely artistically awesome.
I thought that the idea presented in the article was also genuinely hilarious.
I really wanted to know what a sandpaper disc would sound like played on a turntable.
I read the article and checked if anyone else had done this already. No one had.
I thought there might be a few other weirdos who would try the same search that I tried after I finished reading the article, and that they would be amused when they found the Bandcamp.
I had the means to do all of this quickly and for almost no cost due to having a recording studio, record label, and physical media production facility.
I thought it would be fun and a good exercise in creativity.
I thought that collaborating with someone (the author) in a way that they never would have expected and didn’t even know about was a curious concept.
I thought going to all this effort for something so odd and pointless was intriguing and ridiculous.
I found the non-existent release’s meaning very ambiguous and wanted to explore its concepts more concretely. I see elements of various forms of art in it and I am not sure if it’s more “music” or “conceptual.” It blurs the lines between different mediums of art. It also straddles the world of comedy and serious, thought-provoking concepts. I see no reason why comedy and art cannot coexist, and I like a lot of art that is humorous.
Taking it to the next step in the process, I wanted to explore just what the heck it would mean if I were to actually do what I did (flesh out the Bandcamp). It felt like doing art, but I wouldn’t even know what form of art to call it. It’s music, conceptual, somewhat performative, and it could be considered an internet installation art piece. Again, I think it’s all funny, but it’s also meaningful in some way. My end of the process felt just as ambiguous as the original concept.
Everything about my own hand in this process (the development of the Bandcamp and also this explanation piece) will certainly be considered very pretentious by some who encounter it. For whatever reason, that just made me want to do it more.
Most importantly, I just wanted to pay homage to The Hard Times, because their work is superb.
Honestly I didn’t consciously think through all of these things before I began, but they were all reasons that I took the time to do this. The simplest explanation is just that it was a fully natural thing for me to do.