the Books

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

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Jul 24

A Cold Freezin’ Night

Hi All.

A Cold Freezin’ Night also came very early in the process of making ‘The Way Out’. The Talkboy tapes, as I described in my blog entry of June 23, were another highlight of Paul’s sample library. Since we leaked this track last month, the responses have ranged from unbridled joy, to bitter commentary on my parenting skills. (It’s funny how many people assume that these are our kids and we scripted the whole thing). I found a tape recorder for my boys, not a talkboy, but a Fisher Price… so far the highlight has been Sepp singing variations on the theme-song for NPR’s ‘All Things Considered” entirely using the word ‘poop’, over and over. He’s 4. His most prized possession is his Fischer Price turntable:

On constant rotation recently: J. Geils - ‘Freeze Frame’, Bobby Vinton - ‘Is There a Place (Where I Can Go)’, and ‘5 Minute Hoe-Down’, which he calls the ‘fiddle one’. Sometimes Sepp complains about having to ‘work all day, everyday”. If you ask him what his work is he says “I have to play my record player”. He must think that’s what I do all day out here. And he’s right, pretty much.

Since I covered the backstory of this track before, I want to write about the creation of the percussion part, which involved my ‘electro-acoustic poly-rhythm generator’. This is the part of the track that sounds like a cross between a ‘nail gun set to automatic’ and ‘a guy in a subway, banging on a five gallon bucket, on methamphetamines’. I’ve never taken speed, but I do own a nailgun, a Bostitch F28WW pneumatic, which I love, but it was not used in the making of this track, at least not directly.

Here are pictures of the rhythm-generator:

It’s a four inch subwoofer attached to an oddly shaped flexible mirror using a copper plumbing fixture. Why a mirror? No reason, it was the best piece of plastic I could find for the job at the Autozone. When you put a low frequency sound through the woofer, it sets the mirror vibrating, and since it is oddly shaped, different areas of the mirror move in different ways given the chaotic relationship between the root frequency and their own set of resonant frequencies. What I did for ‘A Cold Freezin’ Night’ is send a 20 hz¬†sound and a 30 hz sound through the mirror simultaneously, and held a ball point pen gently against different parts of the mirror and recorded the result. Of course at this point it just sounds like a buzzing nightmare (i’ll try to post the sound later tonight), but if you slow the sound down by two octaves all of this amazing rhythmic structure becomes apparent. The chaotic relationship between the 2/3 sound wave, the vibrating mirror and the tip of the pen gives an astonishingly expressive, and superhumanly accurate drum solo. It was pretty easy to massage the rhythm into shape using my wave-editor after that.

There’s no real way to reproduce it live, so for the purposes of the show, we use it as it is. Gene has been working on copping that crazy harmonica solo on his fiddle, so that’s fun to watch.

I remember first listening to Aphex Twin and Squarepusher in college. Drill-and-Bass was all the rage back in the late nineties, like Aphex Twins ‘Girl-Boy Song’ and Tom Jenkinson’s ‘Feed Me Weird Things’ and ‘Big Loada’. Very Guyish, Very Awesome. It was a great paradigm shift in music. The drums, through some kind of coup d’etat, usurped the role of the melody as lead attention grabber in music, and the melody slunk back into the role of holding time together. It was a very freeing moment for music. Drums didn’t have to be humanly playable anymore. People were beginning to accept cyborgs as just another member of the band. It was key for setting up the musical landscape that made ‘the Books’ possible, and I think of ‘a Cold Freezin’ Night’ as a bit of a throwback to this era, and maybe sort of an updated version of this aesthetic.

Tomorrow, Beautiful People…

best, Nick


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