I wrote/arranged/produced/created both The Big Shimmer & Flight of the Atom Bee almost concurrently … this took place over a period of months, mostly due to my having to learn so much about digital recording and arranging. I’ve written plenty about the title track, Flight of the Atom Bee, elsewhere.
I learned a tremendous amount with those two pieces. It was a time of non-stop experimentation and gear exploration and I was rapidly learning how to arrange and control sythesizers from my Macintosh, using StudioVision. I was also doing a lot of audio processing using other applications like Sound Design to modify, enhance, and make weird noises.
My next piece was to become Wild Pink Yonder, which was to take the number two spot between the two compositions.
By now I had a room full of synthesizers all being run off my Mac. I had also gotten a new mixer: the old Soundcraft I had been using for my first two songs was horrifically noisy on almost every channel. The venerable old blues establishment, Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland, had been home to it for many many years and it seemed as if every part of the circuitry and signal chain, the faders and pots were encrusted with nicotine and spilled whiskey: they did not improve the sound.
I had a lot of effects boxes and processors: I tended to use them on specific synths in-line, which means I didn’t send the sound from the mixer and bring it back into the mix.
This was the first song where I programmed every note. I used an Alesis S4 rackmount synth for the bass line: it was an interesting synth, but I was too new to programming to explore its sound design possibilities in any real way (if it had had an outboard module like the JX-8P’s programmer, with sliders and knobs and switches, that would have been a different story), but it had some great sounds pre-programmed, including this round bass sound. The bassline itself was based on a simple blues I-IV-V chord progression, with a major seventh thrown in.
I began programming my first drum patterns on the Mac as well. Again this was another case where I had no idea what I was doing. I remembered reading an interview with James Brown where he said, “To make it funky, you have to hit the one!” Meaning the first beat of the measure. So I thought I better hit the one with a snare: I didn’t realize that, normally, you hit the the one with the kick drum and used the snare on the two and four: the back beat. You will notice that several songs on this album do not have a back beat. Well, live and learn, I say.
So I began building out the song, starting with the bassline and a rudimentary drum pattern.
I had an Emulator II, a very early sampler, which came with some very interesting samples—you can hear a lot of them on my first two instrumental cds. I started with a choir, trying different things until I got a nice dreamy flow going. I then added in the second melody line using a Roland D-110 “moog” patch.
The sound began to take shape and I found it reminded me of the furniture polish ads I saw on TV as a child, where the woman experienced near orgasmic ecstacy as she blissfully polished her dark oak table with lemon-scented aerosol wax. And once that happened, it was simply a matter of following each musical thread/line where it would take me.
I arranged in real time, meaning, I would work on a few measures at the same time, listening to everything together and tweaking each until each part locked into place. It was a very intuitive process, wherein I discarded a lot of ideas. Of course, there was always a certain amount of serendipity as well: I had the passion to follow accidental ideas where they took me and sometimes they paid off greatly.
There are a few bars at the very end of the piece, after the breakdown, that took me four days to work out. I didn’t mind at all.
Once I had all the parts in place, I realized it needed one more thing and I got my friend Lynn to come down and record the words “You naughty boy,” which I layered in the intro and a couple other spots in the song.
As I did for all of my instrumental work in those days, once the mix was set and exactly where I wanted it, I recorded the whole thing to digital audio tape and that was the final mix.
I still love this song many years later. I listen to it and wonder where some of it came from. It was during the comosing and arranging of this piece that I began to realize that we are really channeling the music: it is flowing through us to the degree our craft, discipline, and a certain je ne sais quois allow it to happen.
But that place, down below where the music is, is where I have found refuge and weathered many storms up here o the surface.
The Big Shimmer was the opening for my first album, Flight of the Atom Bee, which you can read about here.
The Blue Serge
In the early days of my re-submerging into music making, around 1994, as I recall, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had barely played guitar for almost twenty years. I had spent a couple of years in the late mid-eighties learning the ins and outs of creating semi-musical sound with a Serge Modular Synthesizer, which was a complex, finicky, almost impossible-to-play noise-making device. But I was still drinking and nothing came of my nightly analog meanderings. I would occasionally come up with amazing patches in my stupor, but one half-twist of one tiny non-descript knob somewhere on the largely un-labeled boards would destabilize the whole patch and I would never be able to get it back to where it had been, much less remember how I got there in the first place.
When, later, after a few years of sobriety, the light went on over my head and I remembered that I had at one time practiced guitar for up to eight hours a day, I got the Serge and some other gear out of storage and went on a synthesizer and music studio gear buying binge which lasted a couple of years.
So before too long, I had a studio that looked like this:
That didn’t mean I knew what to do with it. It was baby steps at first. I think I have mentioned before that I had no clue about how midi worked, how to write a drum part, or a bass line, or how to score strings, and so on, so The Big Shimmer was comprised of small simple units of my own making.
The Big Shimmer started with the bass sound and then the bass line itself, which I put together on the Serge, using the Serge Touch Keyboard as a control-voltage sequencer, sync’ed to a little Roland TR-606 drum machine to generate beat clock, as well as the simple drum pattern you hear throughout the song. Later, I had to use a very early Roland midi interface to send beat-clock to the TR-606 drum machine to get the hi-hat patterns you hear in the song, which were processed through a Mutron Bi-Phase phase-shifter, a classic piece of analogue sound processing gear.
The chord in the song was played on a Roland JX-8P, a beautiful digital synth with analogue filters on which I would spend days tweaking one sound – it was a wonderful form of meditation. There were three primary patches used for The Big Shimmer: the main pad, one to allow a I-V chord progression, and the big wide shimmering tone you hear layered here and there, and in the last three or four minutes of the piece.. The chord itself was just a series of fifths up the keyboard C-G-D-A-E-B with the keys taped down and all the chords were recorded in one pass in real time. I did whatever layering and editing was necessary later.
I ran the JX-8P through a real spring reverb, so much of the motion you hear in the sound is the result of kinetic energy building standing waves within the spring itself. A beautiful sound.
By this time I was recording into my computer using the great StudioVision application.
I recorded the bass line, the chord and its variations via different patches on the keyboard, the drum parts, including the phase-shifted hi-hats, and the incidental serge noises separately.
I then began to take them apart and put them back together again in StudioVision, cutting and pasting snippets of sound and learning how to build and arrange a song.
It was an incredibly exciting time for me – I had no idea what I was doing. Everything was serendipitous, but I was fearless and would happily follow ideas wherever the sound would take me. There was a tremendous amount of uncovering, discovering, and then disposing.
I have no idea how long I worked on the piece once it was on my computer, but I do remember when I got the mix almost done, as you hear it now and I made a cassette of it and played it for my artist friend, the beautiful and talented and sexy Lynn Klein. We were driving to a restaurant and I parked as the song was about half-way through.
We sat until the piece was finished.
She looked at me and said,”Knox, that is just sex!”
I knew that I had succeeded.
Claude Michel Celse, Seaside Town, 1948
the reason that I am alive
By Boris Vian
the reason that I am alive
the reason that I am alive
for the tanned leg
of a blonde woman
propped against the wall
beneath the round sun
for the billowing sails
of a sleek schooner
at the mouth of the harbor
the iced coffee sipped through a straw
for the caress of sand
gazing at the watery deeps
turning so blue
descending into the deeps
with the fish
the tranquil fish
they calm the bottom of the ocean
fly above the seaweed hair
like slow birds
like blue birds
the reason that I am alive
because it is beautiful
My good friend Brad Eigen had to do an interview on mental illness/addiction/alcoholism for a class he is taking. He knew exactly who to call.
Love is patient, Love is kind,
It does not envy, it does not boast,
It is not proud, It is not rude,
It is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil,
but rejoices with the truth.
Love always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Love never fails.
Corinthians 13 : 4 – 8
I don’t know much about Delia Derbyshire, but she did incredible things with a tape-recorder in the era before samplers. She made music for the British TV show, Dr. Who. A fascinating artist, quite cute, as well. The proprietor of http://drwhogirlsknickers.co.uk would kill for a pair of her panties.
Find an olive tree, pick olives. Use ladder if needed. Make a small slit in the skin of each olive with a sharp knife, soak them in water for thirty days, changing the water every day. Brine olives uncovered in salt water, 10 parts water to one part salt, for five days. You do not need to change water. Put olives out to dry. When dry put in jars with good olive oil, whole peeled garlic cloves and Greek oregano (if you can find it). Seal jars. Let marinate for a week. Open jar and enjoy with cheese, bread, salamis, wine or any tasty drink. And music!
The canning process.
The Bottle—©2011 Knox Bronson
I’m redoing this site over the next week or so.
Perhaps it will inspire me to post more here! Probably not. Pixels has still taken over my life. But I am heading back into the studio to record my next cd.
Much to my surprise, the title “One Man’s Opinion Of Moonlight” has soundly pulled ahead of “Naked” as the favored title for my next cd.