the Books

A blog by Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong of the band 'the Books'

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Jul 21

Group Autogenics I

Hello, Greetings and…

Since our last record came out in 2005 Paul has been working on rebuilding and reorganizing his sample library.  He’s got some 30,000 samples now, neatly categorized into folders like: ‘Foghorns’, ‘Insects’, ‘Mechanical Instruments’, ‘Strange, Small’, ‘Telephones, Beeps’.  At least half of the library is spoken word and is categorized by source, with mysterious titles like:  ‘1975’, ‘Morning Offering’, ‘Alpha Awareness’, ‘IF’, ‘Egos, Emotions’, ‘Canary Instruction’, ‘French in Record Time’, ‘Jezus Christus Superster’, ‘Bend Me and Feelings’, etc. etc. etc.  Vinyl was the principal source of Paul’s earlier libraries, but since we began touring, we, mostly he, began collecting audio and video tapes as well.  So a lot of the signature crackle of the samples we use is being replaced by the hiss of ‘position normal’ audio tapes, which gives at a very different, although equally palpable sense of nostalgia.  VHS and Audio tapes are basically obsolete, and are quickly disappearing off the face of the earth, so we siezed the opportunity that the salvation army presented us with… We’re trying to pick up all the good tapes before they’re all gone.

What makes a good tape?  Nothing mainstream.  We’re into stuff that was made in small runs by local producers, that would otherwise never be digitized, and is therefore literaly on ‘the Way Out’.  For the most part the material we sample has no ‘google signature’ which feels like an important line that defines the sweep of the library.  This includes home recordings like answering machine tapes and ‘talkboy’ type things, instructional videos for products that no longer exist, strange religious stuff etc.   It’s amazing how different parts of the country yield different types of tapes.  You can imagine that California was the primary source of tapes that lead to the Group Autogenics tracks…

There is a lot of crossover in our roles in the Books, but the dynamic that has propelled our collaboration from the start is our collector/composer relationship.  Paul is a consummate collector, and I feel at my best when trying to find connecting lines between all of these moments.  So mostly I’m writing from the perspective of composer, because that’s my ‘thing’. 

Within the library there is a wonderful moment that happens when we reach a ‘critical mass’… When it becomes clear that there is a body of material strong enough to explore in a rich way.  This happened very early on with the ‘autogenics’ material, and it became a way to book-end the record.  As you know, our work kind of goes where it wants, so it was useful to have a unifying idea to frame the record.  Wikipedia does a pretty good job of defining ‘Autogenics’:  “Autogenic Training restores the balance between the activity of the sympathetic (flight or fight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branches of the autonomic nervous system[3][4]. “  This is pretty good description of what music does as well, so it seemed like a good pairing.

The interesting thing about the voices on these tapes is that they speak so slowly and carefully that it is pretty easy to swap the subjects and objects of sentences at will using an audio editor.  So that’s what we started doing to get them to say such unexpected things.  But no matter how abstract their imagery becomes, the tone of their voice carries a serenity and focus that endures the editorial process, and maintains the integrity of their mission… to “reach the infinite everything” or something like it.   

Unfortunately a lot of the music that accompanies guided-meditation productions is shlocky new-age.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to shlock, it certainly has it’s place, but my goal became to re-frame this bizarre narrative with music that could propel the track gently and still go on unexpected tangents where necessary.  It had to be rhythmic but a bit off kilter, thus the 5/4, and cool but not too cool, lest it become self-conscious.  I could talk a lot about self-consciousness and how it plays out in music… maybe another time.  But I remember Drew saying something really interesting in London.  I asked him over dinner one night, what’s the next big paradigm shift in music?and he said, almost without pause, “Music needs to be less self-conscious”…  Music needs to get over itself.  I like that, a lot.  Again, it doesn’t seem that far from the ultimate purpose of autogenics; to transcend.

Anyway, the bass line I pulled from a soundtrack that I was working on for Gregory Whitehead called ’Bring Me the Head of Phillip K. Dick’,  and I fashioned a skeletal rhythm out of false-harmonics and brushes on pine.  A guitarist/composer friend of mine Kelli Rudick brought her Arraynail violin up around the time my second son was born, and that is the strange frictiony android-like sound you here after “and now I leap forward in time”.  Paul’s collection of ‘Om’s’ was put to good use in this track as well as some great thundersheet samples and deeply flanged cello, of course.  There are also a few shaving cream sounds and a sliding glass door in there.  And a toy that I found for Sepp that consists of an aluminum pipe, closed on one end by a rubber stopper, sliced in half up to the midpoint with a whole drilled near the closed end.  It has a wah-wah tuning fork quality that can be easily re-pitched.

Also, the clavinet is used sparsely in this track.  Paul used to have a band in Holland called ‘Brain’, and had a vintage Hohner Clavinet stored in his friends basement for like 15 years.  After our first European tour with Clogson 2006 we recovered it and brought it back to North Adams where I refurbished it.  You can still get clavinet parts thankfully, so i changed all of the strings and hammers, and rewove the damping material.  One of the best features of the clavinet is it’s damping bar.  You can drop a piece of felt down on the strings to partially mute the sustain, and it’s a beautiful sound.  Its the fifth that forms the response to the call of the bass line every sixth and sixteenth beat in the cycle of twenty. 

And finally, I recently bought a Fender Stratocaster which makes it’s debut here.  I’ve always played acoustic guitar, because that’s what I had, but I needed a change so I thought I’d finally try an electric.  I’m in love with it.  I tried a lot of guitars while shopping for the right one, and I always went back to the strat.  something about the attack and the tone of the second-from-the-right pickup pattern that really gets me. 

Congrats for getting through all that!  Tomorrow: IDKT.

Nick


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