Archive for the ‘native instruments’ Category

New Detholz! demo – “Lost Weekend #5”

May 30, 2008

Welcome to the Detholz! Mp3 Blog, Episode XXXVII!

Before we begin this week, my sincere apologies to regular readers for my truancy from the blog last week and the tardiness of this week’s posting. The writer’s block I wrote about in the last post persisted — and worsened — to the point where I was:

a. questioning my own sanity

b. seriously doubting my abilities

and

c. experiencing an extreme case of the Doldrums

In short, due to my gimpiness (gimpitude? Gimpity?) I had nothing of value to offer you last week.

A related note: I’ve added an RSS feed in the sidebar, so if you’re one of those futuristic types that subscribes to RSS feeds, you can now click on the link and never have to bother checking back here again. Do so every so often, though, just so I don’t get lonely floating out here in the blogosphere. You feeders don’t register in my stats engine.

Anyway, now that that unpleasantness is out of the way, on with the show, I say, on with the show!

This week, a tour through one of the world’s greatest hearts of darkness:

LOST WEEKEND #5

I literally half-finished over 11 songs before completing “Lost Weekend #5.” ALL of them are terrible– and this one may be, too. Initial reactions from the band are positive, but… I haven’t made up my mind about “Lost Weekend” yet.

1. SONG CONCEPT

After stumbling across a stunning piece of kitsch on YouTube, I knew what the subject of my next song would be: the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey. The YouTube piece is a documentary divided into 10 parts called “Speak of the Devil.” HIGHLY recommended viewing:

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL

A large portion of the second section can be skipped — it’s a long clip of LaVey’s first television appearance on a 60’s children’s show called “Brother Buzz” that seems to revolve around a pair of bumblebee puppets. On second thought, don’t skip it. It’s amazing! The clip centers on LaVey’s pet lion, Togare, which he was eventually forced to donate to the San Francisco zoo by jittery neighbors.

There is so much rich material in “Speak of the Devil,” I almost don’t know where to start.

LaVey makes extraordinary claims about himself and his past. He is articulate, funny and obviously a world-class nerd, waxing on and on about Johnson-Smith gag catalogs he would read as a child (and apparently kept under his pillow as an adult), his years as a crime scene photographer for the SFPD in the 50’s, or– my personal favorite — his mannequin collection in the “Den of Iniquity,” presumably the den in the famous Black House in San Francisco. He literally built his friends, citing his growing misanthropy.

It was a form of ultra-realistic sculpture — he would deliberately sculpt the faces of the mannequins to be ugly or distorted and his collection included prostitutes and shady-looking men. Lavey would sit and talk to them, preferring their company to that of “real” people. In the film, he seems a tad embarrassed by his creations, citing others who were more adept at ultra-realistic sculpture than he.

LaVey was also a pedigreed theater organist, so there are long clips of him playing his collection of home organs and talking about his years playing calliope in the Clyde Beatty circus after he ran away from home at the age of 17. Or so he claims. He’s a great player and made a few records in his day, most notably “Satan Takes a Holiday,” a collection of songs from his repertoire as a burlesque organist.

The documentary piqued my interest about LaVey — an apparent 60’s B-list crank whose story, of course, I found irresistable. In my further research, I ran across http://www.churchofsatan.org (as opposed to the official website of the Church of Satan, http://www.churchofsatan.com). It is apparently maintained by a splinter group of disgruntled satanists — including LaVey’s own daughter. There is a fascinating page about the “legends” vs. the “realities” about Anton LaVey that I found illuminating.

If you’re interested, the page is here: http://www.churchofsatan.org/lavey.html

If not, I’ll list a few that pertain to the song:

1. He claimed to have had an affair with Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield. According to churchofsatan.org, her agent set up a meeting between them, using LaVey as a foil for a cheap publicity stunt. LaVey was captivated by the actress but she spurned his advances and thought him “laughable.” To further humiliate him, she would call him at home to taunt him while his followers listened in.

2. He claimed to be a close friend of singer Sammy Davis, Jr., who was awarded an honorary membership into the Church of Satan. According to churchofsatan.org, LaVey was not present when Davis accepted the membership and didn’t meet him until years later.

3. He claimed to be the official “city organist” of San Francisco, hired to perform at gala events and political meetings. According to churchofsatan.org, the very idea of a “city organist” is absurd, and LaVey’s only income before beginning the Church of Satan was as a house Wurlitzer organist at a club called the “Lost Weekend.” (Perhaps the greatest name for a burlesque nightclub imaginable. Reminds me of the “Cafe Remember” in the heart of Amsterdam’s Red Light district.)

4. He claimed to be a devoted family man, but according to his own children, was an angry, abusive father and husband.

Bear in mind that this website seems to have been set up by people who have somehow run afoul of the official Church of Satan or harbor some sort of grudge, so… when it comes to satanists, people who pledge allegiance to the biblical Father of Lies, it’s tough to know who to believe.

I made a conscious effort to resist the temptation (so to speak) to include a lot of spiritual or religious imagery in this song. My fascination with LaVey’s story has nothing to do with satanism, which seems to be some sort of juvenile bastardization of the philosophy of Ayn Rand with a little occult spice thrown in for shock value. (No offense meant to any practicing satanists who may have stumbled across this blog — hey, it’s a free country. I’m big into role-playing games myself!)

LaVey strikes me as a person with a powerful inferiority complex — a desperate and clinging need for attention that drove him to ridiculous extremes (like founding an “eeevil!” religion). “His own worst enemy,” if you believe his family’s accounts, he was enormously dissatisfied and unhappy. As a result, he became the consummate showman, a silver-tongued pitchman, and cloaked himself in dime-store myths and comic-book fantasies, driven by his rage and insecurity.

In one sense, I guess you could say his devils made him do it!

2. SONG COMPOSITION

This one took two solid days of tweaking to get right — and I’m still not sure everything about it IS right.

I knew two things as I sat down: as an homage to Anton, I wanted to construct the song’s elements from a palette of 60’s home organ tones. I also wanted to use a bossa rhythm, like one you might find on a Wurlitzer back in the day.

I actually own a Wurlitzer home organ that I pillaged from an organ store that was closing its doors but it resides at the band house, so I had to settle for VST organs. Thankfully Native Instruments’ Kontakt 3 VST sampler comes with an excellent repository of vintage organ tones. When recording using VST, I’ve discovered it helps never to take a preset sample at face value. It really helps to know something about the instrument being emulated.

I tweaked the organs’ EQ’s quite a bit, downsampled them to mono, and ran them through another excellent Native Instruments VST program, Guitar Rig. While this VST is designed to emulate different amps and guitar rackmounts, I use it for its spring reverb which is the closest I’ve heard to the real thing in digi-world.  Guitar Rig is useful for more instruments than just guitars!

A geeky side note: as I’ve said before, I recently switched from an ancient version of Emagic’s Logic Audio Platinum to Steinberg’s Nuendo as my primary DAW software (that’s Digital Audio Workstation for those who may not know). While I miss certain aspects of Logic — especially in the mixing window — Nuendo is FAR more intuitive and easy to use. I much prefer how it handles MIDI information to Digidesign’s ProTools and would strongly recommend it – even if you’re just starting out. ESPECIALLY if you’re just starting out.

The vocals on “Lost Weekend” were by far the most difficult elements of the song to get right. I ended up doing so many takes, I was hoarse by the end of the session (which you can hear if you listen closely). Initially, I did a few really aggressive “Detholz-ian” takes where I belted out the lyrics at full throttle, “TT Peterbilt Semi”-style (see previous post).

As I listened back, however, it became clear what this song needed was a soft, almost deadpan delivery which is what ended up on the recording. I concentrated mainly on getting the pitches right — this song is a real beast to sing — and doubled the verses. There’s a three-part harmony on the choruses (the words “baby believer”) that was originally different. The high part descended on its last note, which is much more consonant. I thought it sounded too “stock” (to quote from Lars Ulrich in “Some Kind of Monster”), so I tried ascending instead and — voila! Much creepier and more interesting, IMHO.

This is a call from the ether of blogdom: PLEASE comment on this song and let me know what you think.!It’s one of those numbers that floats in the Twilight Zone for me — not bad, but ot great, either. To quote from the book of Revelation, “because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.”

Should this song be spewed as the spawn of Satan?  Or not?

Tune in next week for the stunning conclusion!

3. LYRICS

LOST WEEKEND #5

Sit in the den and build a friend
Home for the weekend
From the Weekend

A bawdy house brought down again
By your organs
Wurlitzer organs

Deep in the house,
Beyond the black paint,
Mannequin men and whores:

You’re alone in the dark
Talking to devils inside of your heart:
An infant inside –
You’re a baby believer

On a Fantasy ride
Cannot believe what you cannot devise
The carnival cries
For the baby believer

A psycho drama with a Drama Queen:
Miss Mansfield is a mine field
Use Sammy Davis as a go-between?
Mediocre kind of feeling

Tomorrow night, another bawdy beguine
At the Weekend
The Lost Weekend

Lack-of-attention family man
Slug the wife as hard as you can
Run down the hall and talk to your dolls
Another weekend lost
Weekend lost

Alone in the dark
Talking to devils inside of your heart:
An infant inside –
You’re a baby believer

On a Fantasy ride
Cannot believe what you cannot devise
The carnival cries
For the baby believer

Advertisements

Detholz! demo – “Catherine Zeta-Jones”

August 1, 2007

Welcome to the Detholz! mp3 blog’s second installment! All of these blog postings are in two parts:

1. Song Concept for “lyrics” people, and
2. Song Composition for “music” people.

Feel free to skip around!

1. SONG CONCEPT

This week, a Detholz! demo presented in earnest for the next record: “Catherine Zeta-Jones” (I seem to be mired in Hollywood these days… well, who isn’t?)

In this case, ol’ Cath is incidental to the subject matter. As I mentioned last week, all of the songs on the new record deal with different aspects of betrayal. This song is about the sad case of American traitor, Robert Hanssen, an FBI employee who sold secrets to the Soviets for over 15 years. He holds the distinction of being the worst (the best?) spy in American history.

My interest in his story was piqued initially by Billy Ray’s recent film “Breach,” which I watched in the back of the Baby Teeth tour van a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I don’t think the film does justice to the real Hanssen, as it presents him as a frustrated “super-spy” (though Chris Cooper’s performance in the role is exceptional). The truth is, Hanssen was a mediocre FBI agent that rose in the ranks primarily because the Bureau didn’t really know what to do with him. He was a textbook headcase, which is unusual for an FBI employee given their rigorous screening process.

Hanssen had undeniable technical skill and a superior memory. Unfortunately, these talents were overshadowed by a seeming inability to deal with people. He wore black suits daily, never smiled, and was referred to by his subordinates at the FBI as “Dr. Death.” At one point, he physically manhandled a female FBI support employee who refused to stay in a meeting and he was simply “brushed under the rug.” The Bureau didn’t fire him, they simply took him out of a supervisory role and transferred him to a solitary technical job. (Heh, sounds like a naughty priest. Ironic since Hanssen was a fanatic Catholic and a member of Opus Dei…)

[Sorry for the history lesson. I mean, hey, this is a music blog, right? To read the full account of Hanssen’s fascinating 20+ -year career in the FBI– incl. his espionage activities– the Dept. of Justice has posted an unclassified synopsis here. The USA Today article published at the time of his arrest is also available online here.]

History lessons aside, what struck me after reading this stuff was how Hanssen’s fantasy life consumed — and ultimately destroyed — him. THAT’S what this song is about: betrayal of self by fantasy. In Hanssen’s case, LAYERS upon LAYERS of fantasy.

Lyrically, this plays out a couple of ways:

1. Hanssen was obsessed with porn, and had an unhealthy fixation on Catherine Zeta-Jones. Evidently he’d carry around copies of Zeta-Jones movies in his briefcase (“Entrapment,” ironically). He would also regularly post sexual fantasies in graphic detail on the web– even using his wife’s real name. Additionally, he would secretly videotape he and his wife having sex, and then watch the tapes with a childhood friend. *shudder*

2. He was a fanatic Catholic, would attend Mass at least once a day, and was a supernumerary member of the ultra-conservative Opus Dei sect– mostly at his wife’s prompting. She caught him writing a letter to one of his Soviet contacts in the early 80’s, and insisted that he confess immediately to a priest. (!!)

These points are borne out in the second verse:

“I ate a bitter scroll
[a reference to Revelation 10:10, where the apostle John ingests the prophetic word of God, which is “bitter in his stomach”]
Inside my spider’s hole
I had my wife, the Blessed Virgin,
[an image that combines his wife with his Catholicism]

And whispered lies to her in Russian

And she’s on the screen
For the world to see
And now she’s Catherine Zeta-Jones
and I’m Catherine Zeta-Jones
[The idea that once his wife is on a TV screen, she transforms into his fantasy woman, and he likewise transforms into a fantasy of himself.]

And I bait the Bear
With locks of her hair”
[His fantasy of himself as “moral beyond morality” enables him to “bait the Bear,” the Bear doubling as a symbol for the Soviet regime and his imminent capture.]

The lyrical linchpin of the song, of course, is the repetition of “Touch me like that / Don’t touch me like that,” which refers to the dichotomy between fantasy and reality: “I WANT this thing / I cannot HAVE this thing.” Or, more rightly, “I WANT this thing / This thing does not EXIST.”

A quote from one of Hanssen’s last letters to his Soviet handlers sums this up well. When asked why he was betraying his country, he answers:

“Conclusion: One might propose that I am either insanely brave or quite insane. I’d answer neither. I’d say, insanely loyal. Take your pick. There is insanity in all the answers.”

The “insanely loyal” Hanssen is now serving a life sentence in a supermax federal penitentiary in Colorado and spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

2. SONG COMPOSITION

Musically, the arrangement started with the opening bass line. [Well, I say “bass line,” but I’ve purposely NOT used a bass in recording recent demos as a personal challenge. Bass is the instrument on which I’m most comfortable, so it’s easy for me to fall in a creative rut if I overuse it. I think it’s important in songwriting to be uncomfortable sometimes, at least for me! What you’re hearing here is a guitar with fuzz and an octave effect using Native Instruments excellent “Guitar Rig” plugin.]

Second, the drum part! I wanted to keep the groove interesting– it would have perhaps been easier just to do a “4 on the floor” kind of part, but I wanted this song to have a jerky, fractured feel since it’s about a man splitting in half. The bass line bounces up and down off of an open G, and the drum part emphasizes the beats where said bass line hits those G’s, all on off-beats:

one-AND-two- AND-three-four-AND / one-two-AND-three-four

Though the bass line changes in the verse, this rhythmic pattern does not.

Thirdly, that ridiculous descending saxophone/guitar line which, as Jonny astutely pointed out in rehearsal, is in Dorian mode. Lately, just to keep things interesting for myself, I’ve been including at least one element that makes me laugh. The sax part is that element. You may notice that the pitch is horribly flat– when I tuned it up, it didn’t sound as good. Sometimes, for color, it works to leave instruments out of tune. Listen to some of those old Velvet Underground recordings and you’ll see what I mean.

The verse is antiphonal– call and response, i.e. bit of melody, answered by “Ze-Ze…Zeta-Jones!” This is a verse form I use ALL of the time (cf. verse of “IMA Believer,” “Club Oslo,” and others from “Cast Out Devils” – songs available for $0.89 download at www.detholz.com or on our MySpace page). I was reminded of the effectiveness of this songwriting device while listening to the The Angels’ song, “My Boyfriend’s Back” on oldies radio. What a great, catchy song! I directly attempted to copy that technique here.

The chorus continues my experimentation with “4-notes-or-less” chorus, and just as in “Tammy” (from last week), the chorus melody consist of just two notes, a perfect fifth apart.

The final element I’ll call attention to occurs during the break before the “out chorus.” There is a 4-note melody (in theoretical terms, a musical “motive”) in the synth that comes from “Death to the Traitor”– a song that is the centerpiece of the new record– and that “Traitor” motive occurs in almost every new song we’re doing. It is a sort of “cantus firmus” that holds this entire album together (though for you music nerds, it doesn’t technically function as a cantus firmus). I love albums that tell stories, and this spooky little “Traitor motive” is included as a reminder that someone, somewhere in the song, is being betrayed.

Listen for it again at the tail end of the song!

So-called “motivic composition”– esp. in larger pieces– is near and dear to my heart. I’ve done it before, most notably in a 45-minute electronic work I did in collaboration with big James (aka “Mister M”) in our side project, “Surrounded by Monarchs.” Look for movements from that piece on this blog in the near future.

As always, your comments and criticisms are welcome! We’ve started rehearsing this, but the jury’s still out. Should Catherine stay…or GO?

Tune in next Wednesday for the 3rd installment of the Detholz! Mp3 Blog… collect them all!

Thanks for tuning in!

Your pals,
Jim C. & Detholz!