Under No Illusions, Electronic Music Micro Album

Under No Illusions cover artworkWhen I’m not busy studying and writing about astrology, I divert myself with creative projects. The latest is producing music using apps on my android phone.

Last week, I downloaded a bunch of different instrument
apps. Old synthesizers, drums, horns, and strings, as well as a bunch of other weird and interesting stuff.

Using a multi-track recorder app, I experimented with these “instruments”, and came up with a few short pieces of music. Then it occurred to me that I had stored up a collection of digital photos taken with the same phone, and found that each piece of music fit nicely when juxtaposed with a given image.

Although it hadn’t been my intention when I started tinkering around, I decided to assemble this work into a proper digital “album”. I chose this picture at the top right for “cover” artwork, and without thinking about it for more than a few seconds, decided to title it Under No Illusions.

Tympani Alley

Tympani Alley artwork

The first track on the album was actually recorded last March-April, and is the only one that was not done using my phone to record or play sounds. The track is called Tympani Alley, a pun reference to the legendary songwriting factory “Tin Pan Alley”, and might be recognizable to some as the theme music for the I Love Astrology podcast.

The track was recorded using my MacBook Pro laptop, my Blue Snowball microphone, and Audacity multi-track recording software. I went to my friend Andrew Sylte’s house to use his electric drums, and recorded myself playing the tympani/kettle drum setting for about twenty minutes (thanks for putting up with that, Andrew!).

When I got home, I extracted a short nine or ten second clip from that recording and looped it. Then I got really creative, and recorded myself whacking my wooden kitchen counter a few times. I added some effects to that sound, and presto, I got that sonic cracking sound that is not only used in the music, but also became my signature sound effect on the podcast.

Finally, I threw in a sample of a backward cymbal to fill out the piece. It was fun to do, and I promptly forgot all about it, until I started work on the podcast the following June, and suddenly needed theme music. The rest is history.

The photo I used for this track is the gate for this industrial overpass near New Brighton Park in Vancouver, a short walk from my place, which I shot on June 4th. The percussive crashes in the piece make me think of iron doors being slammed.

Portal

Portal artworkThe second track on the album is really where the phone concept kicks off. From here on, every sound was made using apps on my smart phone.

This track is called Portal, but was initially called “Experiment 1″, as it was in the making of this track that I figured everything out. This was my first attempt at doing a multi-track recording using an app called Audio Evolution Mobile 4.0.4.

The first sound you hear is something called a “space theremin”, although it sounds nothing like a theremin to me. It is super fun to play, though, and I regularly play it whenever I’m in the mood for a quick distraction. Better than any video game!

Next, the beeping noises you hear come from an “instrument” called a sonorox, which is a sequencer that you program by adding or subtracting little digital cubes. It’s not unlike playing Tetris, but again, more fun!

Finally, I added a cello sound from another app on my phone. I couldn’t play a real cello to save my life, but I can’t squeeze a few notes out of this app with little problem.

The accompanying photo is a shot I took of an office complex called Complexe Desjardins in downtown Montreal, my hometown, while I was visiting on May 8th. The towers have nothing to do with the track, per se, but I thought the angle and cropping makes them look like giant sentinels.

The Swarm

The Swarm artwork

Track 3 is called The Swarm, and it was actually the last thing recorded for this album. I started work on it by recording the rapid tabla drums, again from an app, which allows me to manipulate the speed and pitch of the pre-programmed rhythm.

Then I added sounds from an app called “common analog synthesizer”, one of these old school machines from the 1970s with a lot of knobs. Great fun pulling these pulsating sounds from it.

Finally, I added noise from an app cleverly titled a “noise machine”. Lots of wild sound manipulations available there, too.

I happened to have this striking photo of a mural near my place in Vancouver, which I took on July 4th. Since the music sounded like a swarm of bees, it only made sense to use this particular image.

Hastings-Sunrise

Hastings-Sunrise artwork

Next up is a gorgeous sounding track named for my neighbourhood in Vancouver, Hastings-Sunrise. It is a duet for a pair of apps called the “etherpad” and “ethereal dialpad”.

I moved to Vancouver just a year ago, on October 17, 2014, and then into this apartment at the beginning of January 2015. I love it here, with the ocean being across the street, and lots of interesting hiking destinations in walking distance.

The music makes a perfect companion for this snapshot I took on February 22nd, while out for a morning walk to get coffee. That is indeed a picture of a sunrise.

Don’t Wanna Die at the Superhospital

Don't Wanna Die at the Superhospital artwork

The fifth and final track on the micro album, is this bizarre and ominous piece called Don’t Wanna Die at the Superhospital. An explanation is in order.

First, I recorded new tracks using the sonorox, space theremin, and tabla drums. This was actually the second thing I recorded, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with it, so I put it aside and moved on.

On returning to the piece, which at this point was called “Symmetry 1″, I arbitrarily used a photo I had taken on April 19th, of a new hospital opening in Montreal at that time. It is commonly referred to as the “superhospital”, since they are closing down a bunch of existing hospitals and consolidating them into this one, big complex.

Construction of the hospital has been disastrous, for numerous reasons that I won’t go into details about here. Suffice to say, it is poorly conceived, designed, and built, and the man in charge of the contract ran off with a huge sum of public money.

While I didn’t intend the piece to be about the hospital, as with the track “Hastings-Sunrise,” the music took on the identity of its corresponding photo.

I added the somber cello track, and bingo, I had created something that really does evoke the anxious sensation of dying in a horrible place. It is an admittedly dismal way to end the album, but hey, there will likely be more.

Under No Illusions is available for free download at Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Enjoy!

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