Part 3: The Reproducer
Many music aritsts work with producers. Even me; Julian Standen, for instance, produced 'The Poison Boyfriend'. But Oskar Tennis Champion will be my first experience of working with a reproducer -- someone who takes my tracks and fucks around with them. This, then, is the story, in correspondence form, of my collaboration with John Talaga, (aka Sir John Fashion Flesh) 'The Reproducer'.
Judging by Shakestation's long residency in the upper reaches of the Darla charts this summer, I wasn't the only one to be impressed by the Super Madrigal Brothers. Part of the magic was the way their album got made; a close collaboration between two people who'd never met each other, passing files back and forth over the internet. Adam Bruneau made his 8 bit madrigals in Dacula, Georgia and e mailed them to John in Bay City, Michigan. (Adam will also be involved on 'Oskar Tennis Champion', making a short 'ringtone cycle' which will serve as the album's 8 bit epilogue.)
Discussing the concept of the Super Momus Brothers with John, my idea wasn't just to have Momus in Tokyo replacing Adam in Dacula. Our collaboration would go one step further. Instead of putting John's reworkings alongside my originals, as the SuperMad album did, we'd totally replace my mixes with his. (My originals might show up as mp3 files on the website early next year for those who want to compare.)
And so, on opposite sides of the world, Reproducer John and I set about the most radical collaboration of my career. I couldn't be more delighted with the results.
What follows is an edited log of e mails between me and John Fashion Flesh. I begin. John is in bold. The conversation starts on September 8th, 2002.
Momus: I'm still wrestling with what kind of record I want this to be. The biggest enemy I have is my habits -- 'what works'. I keep wanting to strike out into new ways of working. Maybe your 'demixing' will be, itself, the 'new way', but I also want to work on songs in a very different style, much shorter and stranger, more composed, less repetitive, more like lieder and less like pop.
John: I think you're definitely in the right mindset to make the greatest record ever made! I think pop isn't neccessarily a bad thing...it just never really has been executed in a particularly interesting/groundbreaking way by anyone yet really. I think it's about time it finally happened...so let's make it happen;)
I've attached to this e-mail the brand new-ly deformed Beowulf MONSTER!!! I've attempted to preserve the melody in a dragging/clubbed foot fashion while making it slowly transform into a schizophrenic monster...full of black+white film background atmosphere, with green hazy fog drifting throughout. Let me know if you think I've succeeded.
Hi Fash my Clansman,
Oh yes! This is great! Now I can't listen to my original any more, it sounds limp and lame, heh heh!
I love how there's a kind of disco throb edging through, and various theremin screams, controlled swoops and things going on.
The story still comes through, although I think the vocal towards the end gets a little low, with that metallic ebbing noise (which I love!) drowning out slightly lines like 'have a good laugh while you're at it at my schlong'. But that's a small tweak that I could even do myself, mixing the vocal back in.
My original had some really annoying things, some hiss and some drums that were too loud, and some distortion. But you seem to have transformed all that, so it now sounds powerful and great. It's like driving a Skoda into a car wash and having it come out a BMW! (It's true, the wheels are on the roof now, but that's kind of cool.)
I can't stop listening to this new version!
Let me say again how privileged I feel to be working with someone of your incredible musical imagination and ingenuity. This album will totally rock, it's really going to stand out amongst Momus records. Because, you know, I bore myself with my arrangements, and this just takes them somewhere else, somewhere fabulous.
I just thought I'd mention that I plan on fucking with the songs you'll be sending me in the future a lot more than I have this one.
Yes, I was quite surprised how restrained it was. Which was good, in that the song was all still there. But I also like your mad stuff, which changes the song structure in sort of random ways. I'll be looking forward to some of that. It makes my songwriting less glib and trad.
I'm writing to let you know what I'm doing with the songs you've sent me. I'm approaching the songs with a type of landscaping/environment-building technique at the moment. I've been adding gurgles and clanging here...blips and burbles there...voices and shadows lurking around hanging notes and dropping snares.
So what's new in Japan? Anything interesting happenning in paradise?;)
It's raining a lot. The other night there was an outdoor event in the Hara Museum called Sound Garden. Simon Turner, Arto Lindsay, Terre Thaemlitz and others played in the garden around one of Tokyo's most beautiful and best contemporary art galleries. The rain dampened things. Actually I was in a pretty bad mood for other reasons too, so I didn't say hello to Arto (whose concert was held in a tiny room nobody could get into) and left before seeing my friend Simon Turner play. Nothing musically that exciting, just a lot of drones and found sounds (SW radio), rather arty and pious.
Today I have the meeting with Quattro, then I'm meeting my French music-otaku friend Antonin, which should be fun. He's incredibly knowledgeable about Japanese pop and Bastard Pop and stuff like that, and straddles the pop / experimental boundary. He's in Japan for a couple of months, I think.
I have spent the last few days rewiring the intestines of my Korg poly 800 and my Korg ex 800 to do magical new things. I was fiddling around with some atmospheres for the Scottish Lips song when I accidentally knocked a drum machine over into my Korg poly 800. I heard a violent crashing of plastic, so I hurried to see if I had broken anything. I hadn't...atleast not yet;) While I fondled the korg, I realized that I may have been spending too little time with it lately due to it's lack of luster. SOooo...I opened it up and did some major surgery. Now it sounds fantastico! I can make it sing like a leper who's swallowed half his throat;) So what is new with you? I see you've written a beautifully constructed journal of the new album. Now that I've read your mission and motives, I have absolutely NO doubt in my mind that I can work successfully on the album with you in every way. It nearly brings a tear to my eye seeing how similar your interests are/have become to my own. I myself think Dada is the only valid art movement ever to exhist. Since I was about 10 years old, I've always enjoyed the works of Duchamp and Ernst the most of all (although Francis Bacon's pretty fantastic too)! Plus...let's not forget that Dali would never have painted in the "surrealist" style if it weren't for growing up around his dada-artist school pals. Bauhaus was the ONLY school of design that ever really existed in my mind...blah,blah,blah.
I've already begun reconstructing Scottish Lips...again.
That's great. I am working on a song called 'The Soviet Union'. It's totally Depeche Mode, early 80s. I think you'll have fun with it!
Wrote a new essay today about the software and stuff I use. It's laughably primitive, but that must be how I like it!
Whatever works. More than 3/4 of my equipment I'm sure is absolutely out-dated by today's hip electronic producers standards...but then again I don't like most of today's electronic producers output...it tends to all sound like the same new ultra-popular equipment/software that they flock to. I really love the fact that you use an older sequencing program. I'm still in love with my army of used Alesis MMT-8 sequencers myself (shhh...don't let anyone no) ;)
Here's my re-adjusted Scottish lips mix! I thought the lyrics were pretty romantic...so I tried to put a bit of dramatic, sweaty sex into the mix. Let me know what you think...I'm very happy with the results myself;)
Yaaay! I like it a lot. I thought when I read the bit about sweaty sex that maybe you'd put in some porno sound effects or something, but in fact it was all very subtle, just lots of microscopic detailing around the corners of the lines, and since the song is about someone focusing in on the microscopic details of someone else's mouth (rather than his overall personality) your approach strikes me as totally appropriate. It's about the microeconomics of attention.
For some reason it made me laugh. Which is of course a good sign! Above all, the song just does sound handsome (especially in headphones).
By the way, I just want to assure you that your mixes so far are all totally replacing my originals. That's what I want the record to sound like!
I've started tinkering with My Sperm is Not Your Enemy. I thought it would be great to expand upon the gloopyness of the synth sounds. The song has an extremely playful, almost cartoonish sound to it which is absolutely fantastic! I'm going to try to place a bit more of that in it. I think the adult-natured lyrics will sound even more pointed if the musical surrounding has a full-force kidsy-cartoon theme flowing (like sperm, of course) through it.
Hello Nick! Here it is...the Sperm I've been working on!!! I hope you like it alot. I'm extremely happy with the end results personally;) I can't wait to hear what you think!!!
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
That's always my first reaction! They're just so funny!
At first I thought 'Ah, the beginning is the same!' Then came an extra melody, then a nice cut to silence. Then a lot of the kind of deformations I recognize from Beowulf come in. It sounds more interesting and more crazy -- yet also more professional -- than my mix. It takes the kind of baroque lunacy going on in mine and doubles or triples it, without detracting from the lyric. (I do notice though that the word 'pearls' gets slightly buried.) It's really a lot more like a 1940s Looney Tunes cartoon now, but also like a Matthew Barney movie.
And I love the way you've dealt with the ending. I wasn't really happy with my ending. But now it not only doubles the vocal refrain at the end, it adds an instrumental coda then goes haywire before ending on Beethoven's 5th! Brilliant!
As with the SuperMad album, I am going to run out of superlatives soon. But I am just so delighted. Really, your work is going to lift this album into quite another area than the regular Momus albums, which usually get comments about their sonic limitations in reviews. And I think it will get you noticed as a remixer / re-producer. Hey, that's a good job title: Reproducer. Shall we put that on the sleeve as your role here? You 'fucked' with the sound and 'reproduced it'. You brilliant fucker!
I've completed a rendition of Oskar that I feel is rather amazing, if I may say so myself. I tried to give the song a concussion in spots. The song has a lightheaded, dizzy feeling that I think really adds to the lyrics of head trauma. I even put synth-birds and stars flying in circles in certain parts of the song;) I hope you like it as much as I do...
It truly is amazing! That line about 'it hits him in the face' is now extremely funny with the big 'thwack!' sound! You've taken the industrial sounds and extrapolated, making the whole thing into a very 21st century cartoon soundscape, which is great.
You know, I played a lot of the tracks to a friend here, Robert Duckworth, who's a young 'Japtop' composer who's here on field work from Cal Arts, and he said he'd never heard anything which balanced narrative and formalist experimentation in quite this way before. I think what we're producing is truly exciting and extraordinary, it's going into terra incognita. Nobody does arrangements like this, and if they do, it's way off in the left field and never, ever contains stories and narratives.
My hat is off to you once again, maestro! You are the Russolo and the Marinetti of the 21st century.
I've been thinking of asking Florian Perret to make the sleeve of the record a picture of you and me playing tennis, because that is how I see the record. It's a real breakthrough for me because I never collaborate like this on Momus stuff. Momus is usually 100% me.
I think you'd be making a huge mistake if you didn't put the Last Communist and Back Answers on the album! It's true that the two tracks don't fit the formula 100%, but let me work with them until they do.
Yes, I was thinking that. You could save those tracks if you can somehow get them sounding like the others.
Today I've been working on 'Pierrot Lunaire' and it uses some of the same samples as 'The Last Communist', so it did occur to me that I might want to rehabilitate the more Electro-y tracks. But I'm very wary of the 80s Electroclash thing, because it will date so quickly. What I've really been enjoying are these short songs with strong melodies and clear narratives, the more 'Little Red Songbooky' tracks like 'Multiplying Love'. Anyway, do something radical with the tracks and let's see if they're transformed!
Hello Nick. Picture this: You hear the click of an electronic device as it is turned on, followed by an old recording playing from its tiny speaker. You then begin singing with this recording...drifting deeper into the world of the thoughts/feelings which you are describing. As the song you're singing progresses, the lines between the living and the dead blur beyond recognition until everything becomes one big colorful "party".
That's what I attempted to create with my re-production work on Palm Deathtop. I think I was quite successful...I hope you do to;) Let me know what you think of it.
Oh man, this one really takes me somewhere else! It takes the collaboration to new levels of subtlety and originality, I think. The song is greatly improved. So much more definition and detailing! It really becomes a little ticking art object in its own right now. I think of tracks I really like off the last Bjork album, like 'Generous Palmstroke', where Matmos have some laptops ticking and scratching away in the background. But I think what you've done is so much bolder and bigger than what Matmos were allowed to get away with on the Bjork stuff.
It's really phenomenal. The emotional impact of the song is still there, but it's made more strange and more fascinating, and that's just so fantastic.
I just had my friend Antonin around and was playing him your mixes and he was truly impressed by their craziness.
Here's the honed down and polished new Last Communist! I pretty much left the second half alone...the beginning half is now a birthing place for the noises that invade the track, no longer a chaotic playground. I still think it sounds fucking amazing, even with the toned down first half;)
Yup, this works for me! It has just the right balance of order and chaos, moderation and mayhem. A killer track, in fact. I'm sure it will be singled out in reviews. Wunderbar!
It's so great to hear everything falling into place, getting some sort of stylistic identity.
Must rush, I'm due on a train to the coastal town of Kamakura!
I'd also love to hear what you think of the completed re-workings I sent you now that they have arrived;)
You know, this is totally changing my mind, listening to it in full AIFF technicolor, loud. It sounds fantastic, even tracks I thought were wrong before. Like 'Oskar Tennis Champion'! It really rocks now. I definitely want to use it!
A lot more intricate detail shows through in the high quality versions than does in mp3 format, huh?
Absolutely. Especially on headphones. There are parts where you hear noise in the vocal track when the rest of the track drops out, for instance, but that doesn't bother me. The overall effect is one of surrealism. 'Is it really supposed to sound like this, or is my CD player skipping?' Which I love. Momus has never sounded this avant garde. This record could break us both through to a whole new level of attention, I feel. I seriously think you will get work as a remixer / reproducer on the strength of it.
(Of course, never underestimate the conservatism of the public. There will be some who hate it and say it's irritating. But fuck 'em! They can download mp3s of my original mixes from my website and listen to those instead.)
It brings home to me how radical the record is going to sound. It's big and bold, I can't help thinking of the new mixes as kind of sculptural art objects in their own right, as well as simple songs.
I agree completely! I always try to approach every song I work on as a 3-d object...full of planes and curves, with images and colors projected on every surface...some minimal, some maximized. I'm having so much fun working with your masterful creations!!! I feel like our collaboration is definitely very sculptural in nature.
There are parts where you hear noise in the vocal track when the rest of the track drops out, forinstance, but that doesn't bother me.
I'm glad it doesn't bother you...I actually purposely raised the level of the noise in the vocal track during drop outs in songs like Oskar, Scottish Lips (especially Scottish Lips), and Electrosexual Sewing Machine. I felt it gave a synthetically close and personal feel to the vocals...sort of a magnifying glass put to the breaths between your words. To me it just sort of made the songs sound a lot more sexy over all. Microscopic detailing and subliminal sound placements are my specialty;)
I may stop writing and recording now, just to give you a chance to catch up (and to give my ears a chance to recover from too much pounding in
It's sounding fucking wonderful at this point! The next essay in the Making Oskar series is going to be about this collaboration, because it's in some ways the most remarkable thing about this album, which could otherwise just have been 'the umpteenth Momus album, business as usual'.
Hello Nick! Here is an mp3 of Is it Because I'm a Pirate. It really doesn't do it much justice in mp3 format...but it still sounds quite good I suppose;)
When I first listened to your version of the song, I really took a pleasurable note of the grainy Japanese theater type sounds you used to construct most of the music track. It gave me an idea to make the re-produced version have a very specific overall production sound...one that conjures up thoughts of late 70's Can and Eno recordings...gritty, yet undeniably well produced in an unnatural/faulty-acoustic way. So, I spent a good part of last night through this evening recording most of the added percussive sounds and synth smoke onto reel to reel. I then converted everything into digital tracks...splicing bits in and out into a sort of faked natural acoustics sonic collage. POOF!!!! Instantly a Kabuki theatrical presentation of a pirate's love story emerges...fully equipped with trap doors, talcum powder smoke clouds, and a ton of fake pirate treasure booty;) I personally feel like this has become a song that the Residents could have tried to do write, but were never capable of quite reaching. I hope you like what I've done with the song. It's definitely best heard through headphones for the full intricate collage effect, even in mp3 form. I can't wait to hear what you think.
It sounds more than quite good, it sounds absolutely transformed.
If you're a lucky fucker, John may consider 'reproducing' you too! Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read part 1 of the album diary, Tati and Me.
Read part 2 of the album diary, In The Soviet Union.
Part 4 is about The One That Got Away.