the Books

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

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Jul 31

We Bought the Flood

Hey All,

If you’ve seen our live show, you know that video has always been our ‘front man’.  Since Windish convinced us to start touring we knew we needed some kind of foil to keep attention moving around the stage so we could focus on the task at hand without feeling like an ant under a magnifying glass.  Since then it’s turned into this strange hybrid form of entertainment, somewhere between a concert and a film.  We shoot for a kind of synesthesia between the image and the sound by very tightly syncing them tonaly and rhythmically.  I don’t mean synesthesia in the clinical sense, of course, but more in the metaphorical or cognitive sense, like once information from the senses is translated into the cortex, sight and sound can become more than the sum of their parts through creative synthesis.  Oliver Sacks is one of my favorite authors and has written extensively about the subject. 

Since we have an ever growing collection of video in parallel with the sound libraries, we are finding connections between the two much earlier on in the process, and often the videos are created simultaneously with the music.  This feels like something new… it’s not a soundtrack where the imagery came first and it’s not a music video where the music came first, it’s something else that is much more sensually integrated.  It’s like a chicken- or-egg type feeling where the two are symbiotic to the extent that they can’t be separated without destroying them both. 

In this case, it was a collaboration with our good friend Rich Remsberg from North Adams, MA.  Rich is an image researcher and has worked on countless books, films and documentaries, and his area of expertise ranges from the beginning of film and photography through to the inception of video in the 70’s, which made film largely obsolete.  That’s where our collection picks up so we have fairly complimentary interests.  Rich often spends long days at NARA looking for useful film for his assignments.  But he often finds stuff that is unexpectedly beautiful for it’s own sake and tucks it away in his personal archive for use in his artwork.  In this case he had put together a folder of all of his “saddest” material which he called “Sad America”.  Although, sad is not exactly descriptive of the collection, I think of it more as American pathos.

He gave me the folder of unedited fragments and I wrote the lyrics based on the imagery, and recorded the song.  Then I gave the song back to Rich and he edited the video to move along with it.  You can watch it here.  

The unifying theme became freedom as signified by the Liberty Bell, so there are a lot of allusions to this object in the song.  In my conversations with Rich it became clear that freedom’s just another word for being able to screw things up in spectacular ways without thinking through the consequences.   But the “Responsibility Bell” doesn’t have the same ring to it.  There is also a bit of a return to using  Judeo-Christian imagery as in Beautiful People, while substituting scientific terms for religious ones wherever possible. 

This song is a bit of a black sheep and we considered dropping it from the record on multiple occasions.  But when I would listen through the record without it, it seemed to be missing it’s dark heart, and the title of the record meant less without it.  I think the ultimate and most fully realized meaning of “The Way Out” is captured in this track, so I fought for it’s inclusion.  Maybe it’s the kind of track that you all just skip over in favor of the more upbeat stuff, but for me it provides a resting place for my soul that would otherwise be lacking…  a bit of a depression in an otherwise manic record which allows for a greater upswing through the rest of the record.  Finding the right track order was a key to making it work, and the Gandhi interlude helped solve the ordering problem.

The chords where created using the same clavinet feedback recordings that I described in IDKT, and I used the stratocaster with the tremolo arm to tie the vocals into the chords and keep the song moving.  I love the way the tremelo arm detunes chords unevenly on a strat.  It creates unexpected dissonance that can quickly pop into a consonant chord when you voice the strings in the slack position and release to neutral.  The vocals were recorded in two takes and overlayed to create the chorused effect, and understated harmonies are introduced during the choruses.

The drums were created using my son’s toy banjo:

      

I closely mic’d the instrument while changing the tension on the rubber head to get each strike to sound different.  I then took several copies of the recording and pitched them down by a fifth, an octave, an octave+a fifth, and two octaves to create the low rumbly polyrhythm that carries the tempo of the track.  It’s amazing how repitching a sound can change it’s apparent size.  To me it sounds like an ancient native instrument, but not quite, which is key to maintaining a slightly tweaked and off-kilter feeling, while avoiding complete cheese.

We couldn’t come up with a title for the piece for a long time and it began to get frustrating, so one night in Philly at a show I blurted out from the stage “100 bucks to anyone who can come up with a usable title for this track”.  The challenge elicited many more responses than we would have predicted.  The winner, hands down, came from Andrew Chalfen who emailed us a few days later with “We Bought the Flood”.  I remember reading it for the first time in the green room of the Wexner Center and being overwhelmed by the aptness of it.  So, thanks Andrew, we’re curious what did you do with the money…

tomorrow: the “Story of Hip Hop”.

later,

Nick


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