Thursday, April 14, 2011
Terramecha Part I - Rebirth and Process
This post is kinda long, but I have to get some things out of the way first. Future posts will be more concise, including audio samples and art.
I don't blog very much, yet I have always had the intentions of blogging regularly because I thought it would help me solidify musical ideas. I do write down notes daily, but they aren't really the sort of ideas you would commit to something like this; they look more like a grocery list of ideas. I also suck at writing, and have a hard time coming up with cohesive thoughts, so I'm hoping these posts will eventually help me out in those regards.
In 2010, I released three full-length albums; two on independent labels, and one as a free download from this very site. The first two albums were ambient in nature, and the third was a massively-low brow vs. WTF? sample collage, taking mostly from shitty B-movies. I really should only say this once (but I know I'll say it again), but my plunderphonic sound collages are FAR MORE ENTERTAINING than any of my music albums. They just are. The problem is that nobody wants to listen to audio entertainment that isn't "music," so only a few people tuned in. I think it's music, but what do I know? Anyway, Gel-Sol releases have been more ambient in the last few years, with the exception of a few digitally released remixes, which again, only a few people heard. At the end of 2010, after I finished Plunder a Raging Moon, I began thinking of new music ideas for Gel-Sol. I knew I didn't want to do another ambient album. The ambient-soundscape aspect will always be in my music, so it's not like I want to ditch it entirely, I just want to do something different.
Beats. That's the obvious component that would separate any new music from last several ambient releases. I work with beats all the time, from sampling loops from albums, to creating my own from scratch. Initially my first post-ambient idea was to do an "anti-ambient" album, one that was mostly beats and rhythms, void of any scape-like material. I was also given stems of dance music tracks from Seattle's Innerflight Records, in hopes of recording an "original" Gel-Sol album using Innerflight's source material. I spent a good part of the summer/fall of 2010 composing ideas for this album, but I was ultimately unhappy with the results for the most part. That's not to say this project won't be completed, it very well could. Just not right now. I think my main obstacle with beat-related music is that a lot of it is very structured and programmed. The way I generally write music is to make a lot of noise, record it, extract the parts that I like, and try to make them fit with other similarly generated parts and put them together in a collage format. What I like about this method is that happy accidents occur, and some things just end up working together. Programming songs with set parts and heavy arrangements are tedious, and I have always been against the idea of presenting my music live the way it sounds on the album. This concept was brought to my attention by bands like King Crimson and The Orb. Why would I want to play a song the same way twice? I like the idea that a piece of music can be amorphous in it's different recordings/performances, but still be the same song! So my music up to now lacks dramatic section changes (for the most part) and super-detailed programming. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a bad thing, but I am now considering including more of these elements because well, I haven't tried that yet!
Which brings me to the main focus of this article. In the summer of 2006, I had begun work on an album called Terramecha, which was supposed to be a follow-up to Unifactor. In my delusional mind, I thought of Terramecha as my Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (fantastic 1975 Genesis album), an ambitious concept double-album that would blow everyone's minds, and I wouldn't have to get a real job again. Like I said, DELUSIONAL. Material was written that summer, and quickly integrated in to my live, "improvised" shows. Creatively, this was a great time. I had been settled down in Seattle for about a year, met some great people who were supportive of my ideas, and was getting booked to play shows more often. My good friend Kevin Hoole had a few places where he dj'd around town, and always invited me to play, whether it be a Gel-Sol performance or just to dj. What was hilarious is that most of these "gigs" were at restaurants, and most of the patrons had that "what the hell is this shit?" look on their faces. In fact, I believe that's the general consensus with any project I am involved in. Well, I say it's cool shit! Stop being a robot asshole and get the fuck into it!
By 2007, I had easily a double-album's worth of material, plus numerous live recordings of a bulk of the material. Some of these recordings had been posted online shortly after they came out, but the links are now defunct due to whatever reasons. I will most likely begin posting some again in future posts. In February of 2007, my first niece Izabella was born. As a gift to her, I wanted to write an all-ambient album for her, so she could sleep and dream to it at night. The album eventually became IZ, and was released in 2008. Well, this completely sidetracked Terramecha, and thus began my purely ambient phase. I still played a few shows using my "beatier" material, and a few more pieces grew out of those performances, but Terramecha wasn't where I wanted it yet. A lot of the pieces were/are in place, but I couldn't settle on arrangements, and I was beginning to doubt my whole collage method for arranging these pieces. I felt every song on the album needed to sound different, while contributing to the whole of the story, much like a movie. I had tinkered around with the idea of reoccurring themes to help keep the story together, but at the time I didn't have any concrete musical themes developed, at least ones that would work in other songs.
Then there's the story itself. In 2005, I read short story by Stanislaw Lem, author of the book Solaris, which was made into two awesome movies, the epic 1972 Andrey Tarkovskiy version, and the more concise 2002 version directed by Steven Soderbergh. The name of the short story was called The White Death, and dealt with a spaceship found on the surface of a planet inhabited by robots. I really shouldn't give away the "twist" of the story, as it's a good short read, and I highly recommend you check out Lem's work. But basically, the inside of a planet is completely inhabited by machines called Enterites, and they find the wreckage of a spaceship on the surface of the planet. The outside of the planet is barren and rocky, and employs a sort of force field around itself in the form of giant meteors/asteroids. This is to protect the planet from outside intruders, namely humans. The leader/creator of the Enterites had his whole race exterminated by humans, so it's caution is not unjustified. The Enterites then retrieve the spaceship and take it below for examination. Opening the spaceship door required a password of some sort, and the robots eventually discover that the code is "Vengeance." They find no evidence of a crew except a small puddle of blood, which spreads a virus amongst the Enterites, leaving them to rust and die. This is the real "twist" of the story; machine kills man, man kills machine, the cycle complete. But as a bonus sort of twist, it is revealed that the creator/leader (Metameric) is the planet itself, and dies along with it's creations. I also like that the White Death itself is an organic lifeform, so perhaps it might one day evolve into something more than fungus, continuing the cycle.
With Terramecha, I wanted to loosely tell this story in two parts; Blood and Rust. Blood, which tells the first part of the story, would be about a lone spaceman who's spaceship has detected some sort of beacon in the far reaches of space. A lot of the music in my mind would be setting up the exposition, or just observations from the spaceman/spaceship's point of view. Perhaps a narration of what it would be like to be alone in space, while on a mission to find the source of the mysterious beacon. Another character in the first half of this story would be the spaceship itself, sort of a tribute to HAL from 2001, but with much different motives. For example, this spaceship would be "female," there to assist the lonely spaceman and help him with his mission. I feel she should be somewhat sexy too, in order not to take this project to seriously. I'm lousy at taking things too seriously anyways. Unlike her HAL counterpart, my female spaceship is attracted to the beacon, i.e. falling in love, whereas HAL was killing off his crew members in order to complete his mission. I'm not completely sure how I would convey this musically, and I don't necessarily want to do it blatantly, because I like the concept of the listener deciding for his/herself as to what the song might be about. I believe there's ways to use vocal samples from whatever sources (tv, radio, movies) to convey a loose idea as to what may be going on, but I haven't really thought about it much yet. Getting back to the story, the spaceman and his bodacious spaceship locate the source of the beacon, a dark Planet called Terramecha, and are subsequently "shot down" from space, where they crash and perish.
Part II, entitled Rust, begins much like in The White Death, where robots that inhabit Terramecha come to the surface and retrieve the space wreckage. Like Blood, a lot of the music on Rust will be a sort of observation of this world. What are these things (robots)? What do they do? What does the core of Terramecha look like? Who is their leader? I know you can't really show what these beings look like through music, but I hope to reveal that through visual art to accompany the album (I won't get into that now). Also, like The White Death, the robots will eventually search the fallen spaceship, find the blood puddle, spread it's disease, and rust out the whole planet, which is a giant robot itself. So yeah, in a nutshell, that's it!
I am now ready to continue (and hopefully finish) this project. Right now I have no plans with record labels or anything. I don't even know if that's the right way to go about it in this day and age. I would really like to release this thing on vinyl with a gatefold sleeve and some kickass art. Colored records (red for Blood, brown for Rust) and all that shit. My first two albums are quite collectible and worth a few bucks online, so I'd like to continue to make things that people would be proud to have in their collection. Obviously I'd like to do a cd release too. There's no doubt about it that people like to have a physical product that they can hold in their hands, with accompanying art that makes the whole album a meaningful experience. It's not like people are making any more money with digital sales, in fact it might be more difficult to be heard in this digital age, because it's harder for people to get intimate with your product. I'm by no means against digital sales and piracy for that matter. I'm glad at least someone is giving me a chance! But when I'm listening to a record where the whole album is great, and looking at the large, clear artwork on the gatefold sleeve, I am much more in touch with the music, and feel like I'm now in [insert band's name here] universe. Listening to an album should be like watching a movie. You devote all your attention to it, and listen to it as a whole. That's a fantastic experience you don't get from a lot of music these days, due to the desire for quick singles and money. I wont get into money right now. There's none to be made with what I do anyway, and I refuse to compromise my art, which is the sole thing on this planet that I have control of. I will need to raise money in some sort of fashion in order to have physical releases made and distributed, but I will talk about that at a later time.
So yeah, that's about it for now. Like I said, future posts will be more concise, and have samples and art. I will get into more technical details about Terramecha, including gear and techniques I'm using. I figure this blog format will help document the making of an album, and perhaps some things will be learned!
Thanks for reading! I welcome feedback and discussion on any of the topics above, as well as future posts. I'd really like to know what you think!