28 May 2017, 5:25pm
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by benwoolsey
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MUS8161: Studio Improvisation

For the ‘Free Music Practice’ module we were given a wide array of choice with what we could submit. This was a hard choice, particularly considering I have a number of active improvisation practice projects as it is. I chose to pursue writing an album for mine and Alexei Crawley’s metal band, ‘k//hORdE’.
This project didn’t begin with improv in mind, it sort of happened by accident. It started with a talk by Prof. Will Edmondes (who is also the head of the Free Music Practice module) on ‘Black Metal, Gnosticism and The Body’. Above all we left this talk feeling inspired to create something horrible sounding in the studio, calling on our backgrounds in metal/hardcore that neither of us were utilising at the time. The first song we recorded was ‘semi-planned’ and by that I mean we had a couple of riffs and some lyrics in mind before we entered the studio, but that was it. We realised that the spontaneity of this method served really well for the project, and also made it stick out from other extreme metal acts. After several more studio sessions, producing as many new songs and leading to a performance (as part of the Contemporary Music Practice module in my Undergraduate Degree), I have been desperate to record/create something on a larger scale (i.e. an album).
I knew I wanted this album to epotimise the urgent, sporadic nature of the k//hORdE creative process, so I only booked 12 hours of studio time (of which we only used 8). Nothing was planned prior to these sessions, creating a tense atmosphere, which I think is great for creating intense music (seems a little obvious after writing it down). If I were to say we had a system it would be something like: decide mood, decide tempo, decide starting instrument (usually guitar or synth, sometimes bass), improvise the ‘song’ in parts. I realise that because we record the instruments separately that the drums and vocal aren’t 100% improvised as we’ve had time to listen to the initial instrumental tracks. However, these parts are still created in the same spirit, entailing one or two listens to the guitar/synth, followed by a one take ‘improvisation’ of the new part (sometimes two takes if there’s a really big ‘mistake’). These tracks are then treated ‘traditionally’ and produced (sometimes quite heavily), with added effects and layers. The quick nature of the process has led to a really mixed album (in style and lyrical content), inspiring me to name it ‘sPOrAdICA’.

Whilst I am very happy with the end result from this project, there are maybe a few things I would change. The inconsistent tone is a slight niggle for me. Although it’s indicative of the album’s process and our attitudes at the time of recordings, I feel an urge to separate the jokey songs from the more serious ones. Maybe this is something for future projects though. I think to tear the album apart would detract from the process with which we made it. This is a frequent dilemma that stems from the very nature of improvisation. When recording improvised music the outcome is (almost) always a surprise, and therefore can lead to personal problems with it on closer inspection. The tendency as a ‘conventional’ musician and producer is to alter something and make it perfect, but so often the charm lies within imperfection and that’s how I feel about this album.

I also created some artwork for this album, in a similarly urgent approach to the music. It is made of a picture of myself dancing to Kanye West’s ‘Freestyle 4’ with a mouthful of Wasabi Popping Candy… This was then edited using pixlr, by messing around with distortions, colour, hue/saturation and opacity filters. It’s then layered with some logo work I produced last year in a similar manner.

You can listen to the album here: https://soundcloud.com/kovertbass/sets/sporadica/s-o1fLr

 

Please do NOT share publicly, this is a private link and we do plan to release the album through our label, Real Sesh Records.