New Red State Soundsystem single – “Entropy”

The new Red State Soundsystem single, “Entropy”, was inspired by Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey’s take on the character of Lucifer in DC’s Vertigo comics line (specifically Gaiman’s Sandman and Carey’s Lucifer). It’s also a bit of an experimental track.

The vocal treatments were achieved by tripling the lead vocal, pitch-shifting it, and doing some other various weirdness to everything. It was inspired by the way Scorsese treated Satan’s voice in The Last Temptation Of Christ. (Which was probably just an Eventide Harmonizer.) All vocals, needless to say, are mine. I was also attempting to do something a bit more straight-up “rock” than the usual RSS tracks, though it of course still ended up being weird.

I’m not sure about this track — I like it a lot, but I don’t know if RSS fans will. But I figure it’s my job to try new things. Some of them stick, some don’t.

The b-side is an acoustic version of “Berlin Floor Show” with some additional lyrics (not mine).

Tully Goes Down To The Docks

So, I’ve released a new track for sale on Bandcamp, entitled “Tully Goes Down To The Docks”.

It’s priced at a minimum of $1.00, but you can pay whatever you think it’s worth.

This piece (arranged for toy piano and strings with some digital effects) is one of my generative pieces, meaning it’s entirely composed using software algorithms within Ableton Live. While I’ve made several of these before, this is the first one I’ve really felt comfortable charging for, because I think it’s really good. It’s emotionally evocative and warm, and extremely atmospheric; I’m reminded of a film soundtrack. Hence the title, “Tully Goes Down To The Docks”, which doesn’t actually mean anything. It just sounded like the score for the part of the (non-existent) movie where…well…where Tully goes down to the docks.

The process for creating one of these pieces can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. This one took me about an hour. I created multiple tracks in Live and added looping MIDI clips to them. Each clip consists of just a middle C note, playing a rhythm — eighth notes, sixteenth notes, quarter notes, whole notes, either regular repeating or in some rhythmic pattern. Then I load in the Random MIDI plugin, which randomizes the playback notes. Then I add the Scale plugin, which forces the randomized notes into a scale (in this case, C major).

So the clip sends the middle C note, which is then randomized and then quantized (by being forced up or down) into a harmonic scale, and then sent to Propellerheads Reason, my soft synth environment. In this case, there are three Reason instruments: a toy piano, a solo marcato cello and a string section. The returned audio from Reason is sent to a granular synthesis Max for Live plugin called Hadron, which provides some really interesting (if subtle) sonic texturing, and a whole hell of a lot of reverb.

Once it’s all mixed the way I like it (including mastering but, in this case, no compression, as I wanted it to have extremely wide dynamic range), it’s done. I save the file and go to “Render Audio/Video” in Live’s file menu.

The length of the piece is arbitrary, but in this case I cheated a bit: I manually brought in each track at the beginning and then took them out one by one at the end. The entire track runs 128 measures (or 8:36 seconds). Every time I play the track (or render it out in Ableton Live) it’s different; this recorded version is one of an infinite number of variations on a theme.

I could, in theory, create a custom variation for every single person who bought the track, and I’m considering doing that for the next generative piece I do. It’d be interesting: you would own the only copy of your “version” of the song. No two would ever be exactly alike. It’s a different way of thinking about the idea of recorded music — one that’s really only practically possible with this particular form of composition and recording. (In purely digital music, the two are basically the same.)

I hope you like it. I really do. And enough people have bought it that I think it’s probably worth doing a possible entire album of these pieces!

The New Record

I sat down and talked with Aaron Archer (my extremely talented guitarist and friend) about the next Red State Soundsystem record (the next LP, not the Sophia Sessions EP of acoustic versions of Ghosts In A Burning City songs that I’m recording right now), and what it’s going to sound like. I told him I wanted to make a three in the morning dive bar record; music for drunk brokenhearted dudes who read Nietzsche and sultry girls in cocktail dresses with whiskey voices. A velvet and black leather record, a red and black record. I may have mentioned Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan several times, and also Paul Westerburg.

The long and short is this: I’m moving away from the sound of the last record. This new record is going to be more aggressive, a bit more rock and roll…though I’m not abandoning the ambience and electronica entirely. I told him I wanted to make an Afghan Whigs record as produced by Brian Eno. The album’s also going to be a bit less…eclectic…than the first one. Aaron’s going to be working with me a lot more on the arrangements, and I want the songs to have a unified sound. Which is not to say that all the songs will sound alike, but that they’ll probably jump around a bit less than the last one.

And I want it to be fucking noisy.

I have almost the entire record written, at least in terms of lyrics and chord progressions, and in the next couple of months Aaron and I are going to start the actual recording. I’ll probably drop rough mixes of a couple of the tracks, as we go.

So there’s that.

At Least Sometimes

So this girl comes over and asks you to dance
She’s a warm refugee from the cold middle class
And you wanna take her home and sing her
All your love songs
But you feel so awkward and stupid and lame
That you can’t even manage to spit out your name
And she walks away disappointed
And you walk away with your heart on

With your heart on your sleeve
‘Cause you’d love to believe
That in love it is better
To give than receive
That someone’s waiting for you in the night
Yeah, you’d love to believe that forever and ever
Is not just some poet being clever
That everything will all work out alright

At least sometimes

So you stumble back to your sad little room
And your roommate laughs, ’cause you’re home so soon
And you crumble in about a thousand little ways
And you watch all the movies on late night TV
About people in places you’d rather be
Falling for each other
As the soaring music plays

And nobody goes for the kiss too soon
And everything’s lit by the glow of the moon
And when he calls
She answers the phone
And nothing ever ends in regret
For the words that were spoken
Or weren’t spoken yet
And nobody ever
Ends up alone

At least sometimes

So this girl comes over and tries to be cool
But she’s stumbling over her words like a fool
And you slowly realize,
And you start to smile…