the Books

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

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Jul 30

Thirty incoming (second half)

Hey all,

sorry! I was so sleepy last night… my thoughts were feeling way in the background.  Now they feel more front and center so I’ll write a bit more about 30 incoming.

I can subconsciously trace the musical imagery of this track to something that my father told me when I was in school studying the visual arts.  I think at the time he was coming to terms with the fact that I was irreversibly moving away from chemistry towards art.  He handled it gracefully; I only remember him openly worrying about the financial repercussions of my decision a few times.  I think he sensed my enthusiasm for art which would spill out of me in almost every conversation, and at the time I was recovering from a bout with Hodgkin’s disease so I kind of had a free pass to do whatever I wanted…  one of the upsides of having cancer.

Before I tell you what he said I should say a few things about my dad.  He thinks…a lot.  sometimes to the exclusion of his immediate surroundings.  Apparently it’s a trait that he has passed on to me, and one that my wife bitterly complains about, as I’m sure my mother complained to my father.  Sometimes it’s hard to have a conversation with such a person, or to even know where they are in any given moment.  For what it’s worth, I am sorry.   My dad has spent most of his working life doing mathematical analysis of corporate data, thus he thinks a lot about power dynamics and organizational hierarchies, but more broadly speaking he thinks about the position of the individual with respect to the organization and the battle lines that are drawn between the needs of the individual vs. the needs of the corporation, and how this results in myriad layers of unjustness.  Anyway, he extended his thinking to art when he saw I was interested in it and he came up with this image:

The artist is like a person who sits up on the rocks next to the ocean and watches the waves crash into the shore while everyone else is down in the water getting pounded by the surf.  As ocean metaphors go, it’s a pretty good one.  I think he meant that most of life takes place at that interface between “water” and “land”, and the survivors learn how to roll with it and turn it into a dance.  But, there is always a feeling of unpredictability and lack of control when the rogue wave hits.  The artist is on another plane, so to speak, where there is a distance from the struggle of ‘others’.  The artist’s perspective allows for some pretty spectacular generalizations to be made about the human condition, the danger being that the detachment over time might lead to a lack of empathy or a feeling of superiority, in which case the art can only be enjoyed by other artists who are similarly detached. 

As always, i’m interested in maintaining both perspectives simultaneously.  To be in it and above it at the same time.   To be able to feel it and also see it for what it is outside of it’s immediate context.  The music of this track is an attempt to find this balance so that the interconnected lines can be followed individually or as a whole, and in a different way each listen.  

After the “morning after” message the dial-tone washes into a rhythmic pulse that is swept into a series of waves of different textures which building in intensity over time.   The electronic filter is one I’ve used before; it’s a volume envelope that can add a sine type volume curve over any sound.  It’s good for rhythmasizing held open notes, and became a unifying device for the music.  The song builds through layers of cello, voice, spoken fragments from the answering machine tape, electric guitar, bass and drums until about 3/4 through when after a short vocal lull, a plateau is reached through to the end.  it’s very much a “Godspeed You! Black Emperor" approach.

The drums are very meaty, which is a bit of a change for us.  I recorded the drums in London on Nigel’s drum kit using his “perfectly” tuned floor tom which Drew recorded with a single overhead condenser mic.  I used sticks, brushes and felted mallets to get a range of different tones out of the tom.  While mixing the percussion parts later, I focused on finding a compelling relationship between 2 over 3 and 3 over 4 patterns, that could freely interchange to bring out different aspects of the melodic parts below, particularly the bass part which I recorded at home a couple months later.  

Most of the cello was recorded in London as well on Paul’s instruments, along with the electric guitar which I recorded on Nigel’s old strat through a tremolo amp.  The first thing that Drew had us do when we arrived at “The Hospital” was to record a drone.  he kept microphones running as we ran around the studio playing all of the E’s that we could find laying around: on the pianos, guitars and other indescribable stuff in Nigel’s studio.  Drew then took this recording and layered it upon itself in different ways to create a nice dense resonant drone that could be tuned to any note we needed.  We then recorded the drone onto reel-to-reel tape, and Drew did a session where he sped up and slowed down the tape in real time to get some amazing analog effects.  You can hear this drone used in various ways all over this track (and on “all you need is a wall”).  It’s a classic technique used for building texture in modern rock productions such as Nigel’s production of Radiohead and Beck.  It lends a roiling active atmosphere that goes straight to the subconscious, you’ll likely miss it if your not listening for it.    

Also listen carefully to the polyrhythm in the bass line during the “plateau” section, I’m pretty proud of it.  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a twelve a nine and an eight beat loop used within a single musical phrase.  One would think that such a rhythm would sound confusing, but somehow the openness of the 3 over 4 drum pattern allows for a lot of time bending within a phrase, it comes off sounding pretty natural.    The vocal and cello choruses were the last thing recorded for the track, which I finished composing on my 35th birthday at home in the studio.  It was quite a memorable day since  it’s always cathartic to finish a track.   This track was particularly cathartic to finish given it’s “thirties” oriented content.

Thanks for reading, I’ll write a bit about the short Gandhi interlude tonight.

Nick

              


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