I’ve been processing sound files to create a foundation for animation. I’m building on last year’s work around incongruent foley and non-diagetic sound. I’m starting with sound, and then seeing what animation shows up for me based on what I’m hearing.
This post is about some of the devices I’m using to accomplish this. I find inspiration in them, and maybe you will, too.
Years ago, I accumulated and compiled a lot of “found sounds” with a portable mini-disc set up. I used to carry one around, along with a pair of Shure SM-58 microphones, and record stuff. This is before iPhones. The sound on the Mini-Disc is really great, but it’s impossible for me to get the source files off of the proprietary hardware, other than through the headphone jacks. That’s pretty shitballs, but, whatever. I’ve never been much more than a lofi fellow, anyway.
In addition to the many hours of weird stuff from the mini-discs, I dug up some old cassette players.
Now, Lookit this beaut! It has four stereo outputs, which means I can use it to send a signal to four different processors/amps/whatever. I call it the Bell & Howler.
Additionally, I’ve enjoyed using Red Panda’s Particle to add a little English to the tapes. You can hear this in the video below.
I’m also a big fan of Red Panda’s Tensor, which is like a tape loop machine with a hyperdrive.
My buddy Jack Livingston was in Colorado in the late 1970’s, and he attended a series of workshops hosted by Beatnik poet, Allen Ginsberg. We share a love for Beat culture and writing, and Jack loaned me some recordings from those sessions. I’m going to use some of this in an upcoming, literary inspired animation.
Thrift stores are FULL of odd old tapes, there’s no shortage of material to be found on them. These are great for making short loops.
Finally, I use my iPhone to capture stuff all the time. Using handful of devices in this article, there are endless possibilities for making compelling audio tracks and foley.
I’ll explore how the sounds themselves can inform the visuals for animation in an upcoming post.
I recently had to reinstall Windows on most of my computers. While I was at it, I turned my old Dell desktop into a dedicated audio workstation. It’s isolated from the Internet, which means it is secure, distraction free and only contains recording software. It also means that it’s ready to record at a moment’s notice. I’m excited!
I began recording stuff in high school with my brother, Loco. In college, I bought a used Ross 4-track from our pal Will. Will’s dad worked making software for Yamaha or somewhere and they had a nice tape 8-track studio in their basement. We were very fortunate to have access to all this stuff, including video recording equipment. I learned great deal about music, recording and composition – a fine thing to have at a young age.
The discovery of DIY Punk Rock in high school offered freedom from the unreachable production values of Rush, Iron Maiden, etc. and even the brain numbing MTV. During my senior year in high school, it occurred to me that Hondo guitars and Peavy amps were good enough – if you had a mic and tape recorder, you could make something. One could even run a tape label out of a high school locker.
Tim Cookson gave me a mix tape of punk music (which he got from his brother, J Cookson) that had “Lady Sniff” by the Butthole Surfers, and that song made a huge impression on me. Again, very freeing. I didn’t see it as a gag song, although, I can see how it could make you gag. It got me thinking about noise and rhythm what music can be about. Tim and I recorded the song “Whisker Biscuit” as our two man band, The Infected, in my basement and kitchen the summer before we left for college, and Lady Sniff’s influence can be heard in that song.
Eventually, I’d compost Ornette Coleman, the Amphetamine Reptile bands, Captain Beefheart, Curlew and the crazy shit that comes out of the Knitting Factory in NYC in my brain, along with what I learned about composition in college.
After graduating from college, I had had access to several used record stores and an endless supply of used recorded material. As such, I was able to fund and complete my first real studio, the Dead Chicken Ranch, which lived in the basement of my row home in Hampden, Baltimore.
The first Dead Chicken Ranch
This room was amazing – none of the walls were parallel to each other in order to reduce standing wave forms, and none of the walls touched the existing structure of the house, which made it virtually soundproof to the neighbors. It was a great space. Yet, if I had it to do all again, I would have made the room half the original size, as this took up most of the basement. I also would have spent more time tuning the room instead of making it completely dry with Sonex™. I recorded several records in this room, some of which were released commercially. My favorite is Pet My Kitty, Mr. New York City by Diana Froley (Skoda Records, 1998).
Which brings me to the point of this post – what started out as a tidy Alesis ADAT studio 18 years ago has become a mash-up of handheld recorders, cheap software and miscellaneous effects processors rack mounted on a wheeled bread dolly that I found in a parking lot. The wall mounted monitor lets me view the screen from behind the drums or any corner of the room. It’s all very mobile and easy to use.
I think that one of the best records ever made is Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. I consider this to be a perfect record. The songs are wonderful, and it likes to be heard as an album. But there’s also a story about this recording, where they set out in a fancy studio and just couldn’t capture the spirit of the songs. So, they moved the stuff into the boiler room and SNAP! it all clicked into place. This collection of parts feels like that to me.
I have an appreciation for low-fi production, and what appeals to me might not work for the next home studio enthusiast. I’m just so happy to have these parts reassembled. My plan is to start posting new music here on this site, in whatever form the songs end up taking. As with previous sketch projects, there’s never enough time to complete everything and I’m going to try applying my working principle to this: “record quickly, post often.” Hope it works!
My late friend Tim Cookson and I recorded two songs together under the moniker The Infected. We both contracted mono at the same time, although Tim was living in Alaska at the time, and I was in Chestertown.
The first track was called Whisker Biscuit and it was recorded in the summer of 1986.
Tim’s older brother, J Cookson, had given us a couple of mix tapes with Punk songs. That music was transformative to me. Lady Sniff, by the Butthole Surfers, made quite an impression on both of us, and inspired Whisker Biscuit.
We wrote and recorded another song the following summer. I had discovered Thunderbird, a fortified wine, during my freshman year of college. I had been playing guitar and bass for about a year or so.
I remember my mom came home from work and we were in her bathroom singing, trying to get a little reverb from the shower.
I was using a crappy little Fender champ that was bolted to a piece of plywood and J’s old distortion pedal. The “Electric Cowhead” was my grandfather’s electric razor.