Thursday, 9 January 2014

#32. Electric Cucumbers & Orange TV Sets

Written, produced and recorded by Matt Neal.
Written and recorded summer 1997-1998 at Mum and Dad’s house, Ballangeich.

I can’t really explain this one. I’ve been quite open in previous blogs about what I’ve been influenced by and my rules for songwriting, but this one has got me stumped. Aside from probably pinching the idea for that ringing sound at the start of the track from the Mission: Impossible theme, I have no idea where this came from. The whole thing does have a bit of movie theme quality to it I guess (or at least in my head it does).

Dare I say it, but it might be the most original piece of music I’ve created. Having said that, my statement of “if you think some progression/melody/rhythm you’ve written sounds original, you haven’t listened to enough music” in blog #28 probably cancels out that claim.

What I do know about the stupidly titled Electric Cucumbers & Orange TV Sets (more on the title in a moment) is that it came at the tail end of a creative burst of creating “mods” (as the tracks were known) on a program called FastTracker II. I had finally started making a bunch of songs that I was actually pretty proud of. I was just starting to understand how this whole music thing worked and was finally getting my head around the program I was using (hence all those cool drop-fade staccato moments in this song – I’d obviously just figured that one out).

Mind you, I still had no idea what most of the buttons did.

Then the computer I was recording on died. Full hard drive meltdown. Nothing retrievable. About 100 songs lost forever. This track only survives because my old friend Brendan Hoffmann had saved nine of them on his computer. Luckily those nine were probably the best of the 100, so all good.

Listing back to it some 15 years on, I really like Electric Cucumbers & Orange TV Sets, probably because I can’t pin down exactly what I was trying to do or what I was influenced by. Maybe someone out there will be able to point out a piece of ‘90s electro I’m ripping off and I’ll go “ahhh, I see”.

As for that title, well, that’s what the song sounded like to me. I don’t know why. I don’t have synaesthesia (where people can hear sounds and see corresponding colours in some cases) but I wish I was sometimes. That shit is cool. Apparently when I heard the sound of this song, it sounded like Electric Cucumbers & Orange TV Sets to me. Go figure.


500 Times One (remix)

Written, produced and recorded by Matt Neal.
Written and recorded summer 1997-1998 at Mum and Dad’s house, Ballangeich.

I mentioned above how there were nine songs that survived the great hard drive meltdown of 1998 thanks to Hoffa having them on his computer. Well, one more came to light when I started this blog. My old mate Matt Wearne wrote to me and sent me files for another song I had made in that era called 500 Times One (remix). That was fairly mindblowing. Do you know how weird it is to hear a piece of music you made then subsequently lost from 15 years ago and have no recollection of? The answer is "very weird".

Almost as weird as this pic of me sitting on the toilet.

From what I can deduce by looking at the original tracking files, this was the second crack at working on this song (hence the “remix” in brackets). I appear to have thrown out a lot of the original ideas, but kept some of the samples and grooves and reworked the whole song, so I’m not sure if that counts as a remix or not. The other thing I deduced was I am totally trying to rip off The Chemical Brothers (yet again) on this track.

Either way, it’s not very good. Having said that, Wearney did send me all the files for it so maybe I’ll have another go at “remixing” it some day.

Here's Wearney and I hunting for treasure.

And finally thanks so much to Wearney and Hoffa for digging these tracks up. It’s really quite amazing. You guys rule.

Friday, 3 January 2014

#31. Earthquake In A Cinema

Matt Neal: guitar, programming, organ, keyboards.

Written and produced by Matt Neal.
Written and recorded June 3-14, 2003 in Studio Study-o, Warrnambool.
Mixed by Matt Neal.
Additional mixing by Brendan Hoffmann.

My knowledge of electronic music is pretty limited. My good friend Gus Franklin introduced me to The Chemical Brothers one hazy night in 1998 and that blew my mind quite a bit. Strangely, prior to getting my brain blown by Dig Your Own Hole, I was already making electronic music but without any real idea of what the hell I was doing. I was just making noises (which is how some people would probably describe electronic music anyway).

Fast forward five years - to 2003 - and I was trying to do something a bit cleverer than just making noises. In the meantime, I had listened to a lot more electronic music and had learnt a lot more about music in general. I still didn’t know exactly what the hell I was doing, but I felt like I was getting better.

This particular piece is called Earthquake In A Cinema because it was a) predominantly influenced by a couple of movie soundtracks and b) it made my speakers rumble in a probably-not-good way for a long time until I could figure out how to mix it properly, hence the "earthquake" bit.

The Doctor: making speakers rumble since 1996.

The two soundtracks in question are from The Matrix and Spawn. I spent pretty much a whole summer with an ex-girlfriend listening to The Matrix soundtrack again and again in ’99-’00 (we also flogged The Chemical Brothers' Come With Me and Massive Attack's Mezzanine, furthering my electronic education). There are two key tracks from The Matrix that I was influenced by/trying to emulate/accidentally ripping off.

The first is Rob Dougan’s Clubbed To Death (I think he was just listed as Rob D on the CD tracklisting). That ominous rising bass synth (0:25), the combination of two different beats (0:44), the great mood-changing breakdown (1:31), and much of the song’s dynamic flow are the key things I was gunning for/borrowing. It’s a great track and feels very cinematic, in a late ‘90s kind of way. I was sufficiently impressed by it to check out his one and only album Furious Angels (2002). Apparently he makes wine these days.

The other track is Spybreak! by Propellerheads. I love their one and only album Decksandrumsandrockandroll and from Spybreak! I attempted to pinch the groove and the spy-theme style riffs. I kinda wished I’d put a bassline in Earthquake In A Cinema (there’s no bass guitar at all in the song) but if I had have done that, I probably would have ended up ripping off the bassline in Spybreak! somehow.

As for Spawn, well, it’s a terrible fucking movie based on a wicked comic book, but the awesome soundtrack was a game-changer because it paired hard rock and metal bands with electronic artists – something that was almost unheard of at the time. So we got some killer combinations – Filter and The Crystal Method, Metallica and DJ Spooky, Silverchair and Vitro, Tom Morello and Prodigy to name a few. I particularly dig the Filter/Crystal Method collaboration. Coincidentally, this song was used on the trailer for The Matrix.

Earthquake In A Cinema was one of the first times I’d tried blending the electro stuff I’d been messing around with over the previous five years with the heavier sounds of my band at the time (21st CenturyOx) and the majority of the music I listened to. I reckon the Spawn soundtrack had a bit of influence on doing that.

Strangely, this song was a bit of a throw-together from the only instruments I had lying around in my makeshift studio at the time. As a result, all the guitars on the song are acoustic. They’re just run through various filters to make them sound distorted or whatever. And as I didn’t have a bass guitar I made do with an old organ that a mate gave me for nothing – he’d been delivering furniture to an old lady’s house and she’d asked him to get rid of the organ for her. It was a great organ, with little levers to adjust the sound and bass foot pedals. Unfortunately it’s been living in a barn at my parent’s place for the past six or seven years so I have no idea if it still works. Here’s hoping.