Track By Track: Masks

 

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Photograph by Gabie Ché

The next song off Coldform, Masks started as a “morning after.”
Izzy and I had stayed up super late with Astrolope the night before; we had been recording vocals for It Turns You On. We woke up, had a crepe breakfast and started noodling around in the studio, and we came up with the bass line and arpeggio that starts off the song using my Minibrute synthesizer. We cobbled together a structure for the music and then sat down together and wrote the vocal parts. It was the first time I had sung on a song with someone else, so it was really exciting for us. After a few hours, we woke Paul up with a phone call and said “we wrote another song, come over,” and he did.

With the tune in his hands, he laid down the climactic ending heard in the album version. Being a percussionist, he also added some of the strange drums that can be heard especially toward the beginning;  the ‘ding’ sound was my favourite coffee mug, and the ‘shake’ sound was a can of nails.

I became very frustrated with my vocals on this song, and ended up re-recording myself about 6 times over. The others were more frustrated with my perfectionism than I was with the song, so I caved eventually and just left it the way it originally was.

Leaving this song to cure for a while, we came back almost a year later and recorded Paul playing the snare drum, replaced some of the samples (ie: the bass drum became a timpani) and cleaned up the mix. I added a little more “weepy” Minibrute at the end and the song was done.

Listen to Masks: http://bit.ly/25HAdku

Next up: Quantifiable!

Track By Track: Masks

Track By Track: Yourself Open

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Track By Track: Yourself Open

This song came from a friend lending me his electric guitar and me not knowing anything about playing guitar at the time. I recorded myself plucking and striking the instrument, and did a lot of sampling of individual sounds to a keyboard setup. I then programmed these guitar melodies like I would a softsynth. I ended up with a one or two minute beat. Once I moved to Montreal, I brought Astrolope into the mix and had him restructure the song with me. It became a six-minute strange instrumental, with a decent portion of it in 5/4 time. Izzy came over and we hashed out lyrics and recorded the vocals in a night.
This song was a real problem tune for me as the album started to take more of a form. It was too long, it wandered a lot and didn’t really have a payoff. I took some time away, about 6 months to a year.

On a plane to Mexico in 2014, I figured out the new structure. I wanted to cut the crap and make it more direct and give it a tangible climax. This became the version that can be heard on the record; something simple and to the point.

Listen to Yourself Open: http://bit.ly/1U2DV0A

Next up, Masks.

Track By Track: Yourself Open

The First Time is Terrifying

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Photo by Sam Haggart

Waxlimbs has a small show at a small bar called The Cavern in a small city called Toronto on Wednesday, and we’re playing three new songs.

This is one of those times where I nervously consider how my experience of a song will translate to the experience of other people hearing it for the first time. Naturally, they won’t place nearly the same weight as me on the experience because I’m the one responsible for delivering it. What is terrifying is the thought that what we do as musicians won’t make an impression, that it will glance off people and spin into the abyss that is “new music.”

TL;DR: What if they don’t get it?

It’s also a very exciting moment where you get to do the thing you’ve been dreaming of for months or in some cases, years. All of the pressure, doubt and struggle that went into making this thing will finally be relieved on stage!
That’s a pipe dream- but every artist believes it on some level. Through presentation, they are free of the burden of keeping the material alive in their own hands- it will go into the world and grow on its own. This isn’t always true but everybody has that feeling deep down.
I know through cyclical discussions with friends that my fear is baseless anxiety, that things will evolve with time; my satisfaction will wane with it.
That validation that comes with “releasing” something is purely vapour, and that’s ok.

I think the hard part of having a back-catalogue is owning it years after you release it. I hate performing a lot of older songs now, but I owe that to the work. I need to support it after the shine has worn off. Otherwise, I’m squandering what might be there for others. It’s kind of like raising a kid, but with less sticky hands and gross things like that.

Alright, end-rant.
-Alex

The First Time is Terrifying

Track By Track: A Death Over The Radio

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Jonfrid Eliasen Photography

Next from Coldform is A Death Over The Radio.
I started this song while in the backseat of my parents’ car on the way to see my great grandfather who had recently turned 100. It started with the raspy “respirator” synth sound and the various piano melodies, and was left as that for a little while.
I later started sequencing drums, and ended up using a lot of samples from a brush kit because I liked how fluid they felt. Underneath, the rest was essentially basic dance drum patterns.
I tried playing this one live at the release party for my first album World Makers, but it just didn’t seem right; something was missing.
I took the tune to Jesse Manou from Other Families to lay down some electric guitar. He gave me one mean take, and that’s what you can hear in the finished song.

A lot of time passed, and I had moved to Montreal for school. My Great Grandfather died and I started to think about what the song was really about. I got a message one day about the account name for one of my other projects from someone named Súsanna Herálvsdóttir. She wanted to use the name for her own project, Dóttir (pictured). I gave it to her, and discovered that she had the most lovely voice.
I sent her the instrumental to muse over, and after a few months she gave back the recorded vocals. I remember getting really excited upon hearing them for the first time- I immediately called Astrolope and told him to come over and hear them.

A lot of time and small mix revisions later, and the song was finished. For me, this was one of my favourite songs off the album and marked the first time I collaborated with someone I didn’t know in real life.

Listen to A Death Over The Radio: http://bit.ly/1rptc5R

Stay tuned for the process behind the next song; Yourself Open!

Track By Track: A Death Over The Radio

Track By Track: It Turns You On

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The next song on Coldform is It Turns You On.
This song is a bit harder to remember the process behind, but I do know that it started as a solo piano demo.
What changed it was when I ran the piano through a shitload of distortion and realized the lead melody sounded way better that way. I ended up redoing it with a distorted softsynth.
From there I programmed some pretty robotic dance beats and had the skeleton for what became the first chorus.

Once I moved to Montreal, Astrolope (pictured above, around that time) came into the equation and played the pots and pans you can hear in the intro section, as well as made the drums way better overall.
I eked out the bass line with the bass guitar that I would later learn to play, and we ended up with a pretty bare tune.
Izzy came in and did the vocals all in one day. The garbled speech heard toward the beginning is her rapping some of the nastiest shit I’ve ever heard, which was then warped to hell. We wrote the lyrics based on what we thought we heard in the mangled version. Lyrically, we wanted to write a song that was more fun than serious.

This song went through about 10 versions and two years before we were happy with it, and now you can listen to it knowing that Isabella Davis has a rapper alter-ego called Li’l Izzy.

Listen to It Turns You On: http://bit.ly/1RUYYRJ

Next up: A Death Over The Radio!

Track By Track: It Turns You On

The First Snowfall In October (Prose)

I’ve started to write a piece of fictional prose, which isn’t something I’ve done in years. I’m trying to take a Hemingway-esque approach, in keeping my descriptions and adjective-use relatively minimal. Here’s my first draft:

David rolled over in his sleep. The moon was out and blue light speckled the forest floor.
I heard a snap and looked past the firepit to the cage across camp, obscured by the gloom; something rustled inside. My eyes fell on Capri, asleep by the coals, rifle rising and falling with his chest.
I quietly woke David, motioned to leave and as silently as we could, we rolled our bedding. I crept over to Capri who was still sound asleep with his arms loosely cradling the rifle. I gently peeled the weapon away from his body and out of his arms. He muttered something about the price of gold.

David and I walked for about four hours in what we assumed was a westward direction, and came to rest in a pine-addled hollow as the sun rose. The air was brisk with autumn and the sunrise peeking through the trees was tinged red. We ate some grits that we stole, and tucked ourselves into a space in the roots of a tree, making beds of pine needles.

David never spoke much, so our conversation was short and mostly about the weather, his face never changing beyond grim and stoic. I looked up from our hiding space to see a lone oak sapling with a few frost-coated leaves, still stubbornly clinging to the stem this late in October. I fell asleep.

***

I must have been dreaming for two hours when I awoke. Snow was falling sparsely; something was wrong. I heard the soft thudding of footsteps nearby and stayed my breathing in a sudden rush of terror. The sound of something heavy nearby- a snarl tore through the hollow. My heart beat deafeningly as the footsteps came to a halt directly above our hiding space. From here, I could smell it, rank as death.

Capri called from the creature’s back, “You boys have really done yourselves in! Not the first time I’ve caught up to runaways.” At this point, I was afraid my heartbeat was audible to the whole forest. I couldn’t see David and I was afraid to make a sound by turning my head to look for him.

Suddenly, Capri was right there peering through the roots at me. “You look lost, Ari. Where’s David?”

I didn’t say anything, only stared into his watery grey eyes. His nose dripped and he inhaled it back in with a snort. He was a disgusting man.

“Have it your way, I’ll find him.” And then he dragged me out by the throat with a grip that surprised me in its strength, especially for a wiry senior. He slugged me down to the base of the hollow and put his foot on my chest. “I’ll take that,” he said as he reached for the rifle- still hanging from my side. I swung my foot up into his face, caught his nose and broke it.  I rolled over in a frenzy, trying to take the weapon in my hands and get a shot off. I felt a dull, hot pain in my leg and lost all orientation of my surroundings, dropping the rifle. The beast had bitten and was dragging and swinging me like a rag-doll. I felt something snap and blacked out.

As of this point in time, I don’t think I really know who the narrator is, or David for that matter. Something to flesh out.

PS: This story idea came from a song of the same title that I wrote back in October.

Cheers!
-Alex

The First Snowfall In October (Prose)

Weight, Structure and Electroacoustic Music

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Bad Line Tumult Artwork.

Hello all.
Today I’ve put out my latest collection of works for my Dóttirhjarta project.
It is an album containing various works made for my electroacoustic studies. If you like the stranger sides of electronic music, this may be for you.

Most of the songs explore weight and its relationship to structure.
For example, I wrote Growth Talk as an exploration of fungi and the formation of neural networks in large populations of such. The opening song Containers uses data from natural disasters around the world over the past 30 years to inform its structure. Repercussions is about the chaotic ripple effect of events over time.

There are many different styles of sound play at work on the record. I tended to focus a lot on an acousmatic approach, but on the flip-side songs like Growth Talk and Sundering use analog synthesis for 90% of their composition. Repercussions was sourced entirely from a virtual synthesizer I built in Max MSP.

Included is a live recording of a song called Seventwenty, written and performed with Matthew Murphy of Look Vibrant and Kevin Cogen of CJ Austin.

The album is free, or you can pay what you want for it. Bonus track comes with a download of the whole album.

Love and Warmth,
-Alex

Weight, Structure and Electroacoustic Music