Breakdown video for ‘Spiralling’

I did another walkthrough of one of my tracks, this one for ‘Spiralling’ off Also. It went pretty long, (really) just shy half an hour, so here’s some text if you’d prefer that. But you do miss out on understanding the joy of the high rising terminal in New Zealand English.

Here’s an embed of the track if you want to listen and read along instead of the video.

First up in the video I talk about the field recording that underpins the track, which is a phone recording from a ski field. I describe this as a poma lift. I talk through various subtle fx to give a mono recording space and a bit of variation.

Next, I talk about the main “plonkiness” melodic sound you hear throughout, which is 3 layers of marimbas spread in stereo space. I’m using what Bitwig calls “note fx” to push the original pattern around in time in various ways. I use modulation to bend the tuning of each of the 3 parts in different ways towards the end of every phrase. The track is in G Dorian mode, and I use a trick to moosh everything back into that scale.

Then, I talk about the chords and how I had spent far too much time on a technique that listens for any note on the “plonkiness” track and bumps up the cutoff frequency of the synth every time. This is definitely a technique I learnt from a YouTube video, but I have no idea how to find that video.

That’s the first half of the video!

Next up, the bassline is a series of sustained notes that are sent into an arpeggiator that is never changing the pitch but just shuffles the timing. Different modulation sources affect the speed of the arpeggiator steps, so it becomes faster and slower, sometimes straight and sometimes dotted.

I describe an arpeggio that comes in later, which is a vocoder as a cheap way to create a vowel-shape filter. The harmonic content is the same chord progression as the rest of the track, arpeggiated. The carrier is just a sawtooth synth, and then the modulator source is me trying to hold one note while changing the shape of my mouth to mess with the formants. I use modulation of a sample start point so that each vocoder note in effect has a different vowel shape.

About 22 minutes in, I explain that I took a field recording of me tapping a telecoms antenna with contact mics taped to it, and chopped it up to trigger each tap as a drum machine. Each sound in the drum machine is triggered by a different note pitch. I sequence a pattern on one note, then modulate the pitch so although the rhythmic pattern is constant, the particular sounds that are triggered are constantly changing in an unpredictable way.

Second-to-last, there’s a little synth hi-hat sound near the end of the track that is sent through a delay fx chain to give it interest and the delay length is modulated by a step sequencer that is not in sync with the time signature. So the delays on the hi-hat are shifting around. This sound is faded into the track by bringing down the cutoff frequency of a high-pass filter, rather than fading in the volume.

Finally, I describe some dishwasher sounds, how I chopped them and then made a sequence that alternates between forwards and backwards. This goes into a series of delay fx, then I used a sidechain modulation on the volume of the whole thing so that when the poma lift recording is at its loudest, the processed dishwasher sound is also at its loudest.