Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Real music by humans

The sonic truth is that while I piss around in digital jetsam as the Djkeyll or analysing techno timbres, it’s my wife who is in the studio as I type. Well it’s not a studio but some film soundtrack guy has brought down his machines to record her accordion playing, and hopefully it will make the cut. MP3s of the tracks or at least her Citano riffing inna eastern European roma style to hopefully follow.
It remains to be seen whether I’ll add some ‘colossal beats’ down over it.
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Top end theory: in praise of the empha-tick

***Warning – this discussion of the components of sonic architecture may not be for naturalist music lovers, who like to see a song as a miraculous whole pumped direct from Mark Ronson’s muse to live stage, where brass, guitars, voice and real drums work in perfect harmony
I have probably used this anecdote before but one of my mates once said he didn’t like dance music because it was all ‘tick-tick rubbish’. Did that draw me deeper into my appreciation of the top end of tunes, or was I always a tick-tick freak?
The empha-tick took sound engineers away from the closed loops of early breakbeat tunes – where a crude hi-hat knicked off a JB loop would be added, and would diverge from jungle, where the manipulation of closed Amen loops relied on the interplay between the drum and bass, that sound pressure allowing little space or need for the linear legwork offered by the techno ticker.
In garage and house, of course, that tick is a vital signal of the funky swing inherent in the genres, and producers would spend a lot of time on crucial variations, with extra sophistication sourceable from a good Lonnie Liston Smith triangle line. Joy Div and New Order sticksman Stephen Morris’s amphetamine skittling can also be seen as an inspiration for getting a good top end right. Nowadays of course the top end is many people’s entry point into the latest tunage, via the ever helpful broadcasts of trebley tin by young scrotes on the bus.
Here’s a few whose tick-tock-ticking really drove the tune, rather than just filled in the gaps on the repetitive rhythm.

Mantronix – Bassline
An early entry, El-Khaleel’s bank of machines goes off in near chaos - the rhythms almost breaking free from the programming of this simple-but-effective paean to electro sounds. Era-defining use of the old electronic handclaps too. No-one need explaining how the neu electro of Aux 88, Banks and all relied on a good, uptight tick too.

As eulogised in Simon’s Best of Bleep in smelly ‘zine Fact (I like that smell, but apparently it puts some people off – I’ve seen people on the train turn their noses up and away), LFO is an undoubted classic but it’s not acknowledged too much that the top end really pulls this track along, as well as the space bleeps and the subs. Altogether now: Titter-tis titter-tis titter-titter-tis-titter-tis!

Cosmic Baby – The Space Track
Liquid pre-commercial trance? Ja bitte. Var prima! In Harold Bluchel’s hands, the tick was integral in highlighting the blissful grace of early trance rather than the low-end bump of more UK developments. Bluchel is the Saint of Keyboard Tick as he once said he could listen to the rhythms on a Casio preset all day – and I am the same. Well for a long while anyway.

Dave Clarke – Red 2
The original rhythm fetishist, Clarkey refined his drum tracks to obsessive levels, and this is a classic of the art of meaningful tick, the future jazz storm actually made to play off the Detroit pads and generally work harder and be higher up in the mix then the pulse beat. Also, it’s selectively deployed for greater emphasis. One the flip the top end gets hydraulic; the anoraks just got more excited. Partly inspired loads of Ed Rush style techstep, where a battling quasi metal symbal sound was layered over the two-step, dragging you deeper down the stygian depths. I’ve overlooked techstep’s also standard use of the generic tick, au Rush’s Raven and most others.

Sandals – Feet (Slam remix)
An early indication of the Glaswegian’s penchant for faithful and skillful homages to their early techno favourites. This stripped out almost everything of the stoned acid jazzer’s sideways wobble to major on a pummelling, paranoid track reliant for impetus on the interplay between the relentless tickle and percussive use of snares.
More adept producers soon started to realise that the high end did not need to be one simple metronome marking time. Laurent Garnier’s Bout de Souffle being a prime example of where producers start using several drum machines to fire off several layers of lysergic emissions.

The Gossip – Standing at the Edge of Control
Indie regulars might think the high hats were EQd too high, but that brittle percussion and kick drum are emblematic both of the band’s fondness of electronic dance music and the emotion of the song’s title. Head’s in bits but still seeing patterns.
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