The Big Shimmer was the opening for my first album, Flight of the Atom Bee, which you can read about here.
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.