This LoFi mixtape was, in part, an experiment in running select cuts from my hopper through an old cassette deck — pushing the red-line limits — so as to hear some of the effects it might have on the integration of individual samples and stems. It was almost a mix test, in a way (completed early 2017), used in finalizing Aminal Prisms as an album, to determine what tracks had potential in serving the larger picture of the Valentine’s Day 2020 release. Later that year, I had a hard-drive crash and lost almost all my project files. Much of what you’ll hear comes before that fire.
I often have a hopper I am working on at one time, so that when I hit a wall on one song I can shift focus to another. I have found it an excellent method for being able to sit down every day and do the work. I will often try and create something spontaneous and live, and so some of those kind of tracks also ended up on this collection of alternate takes, live jams, sketches, demos, and noise.
#1 Echo Lalia (alternate take)
When I worked at a long-term care facility, there was a resident who had this unusual disorder, known as “echolalia” — it is a kind of uncontrollable “parroting” of whatever might be said within earshot. She was a sweet lady most of the time; though, sometimes she would end up echoing hilarious phrases from people who did not know she could not help it, and it would make for some wildly inappropriate moments. She also cussed like it was breathing.
The final version of this track includes a great take from “Snatch” (my favorite Guy Ritchie film), because I was looking for a way to treat the drop that launches that bloody evil bass line, and I felt that line (taken out of context) had a chance of saying something larger about the unruly genetic impulses that often have a strange hand in molding who we are as individuals. I believe the music we repeatedly hear affects our mood which in turn has an effect on our genetics.
#2 Gameplay Knuckles (alternate take)
I found the wild, loose percussion elements, the big synth bass, and droning, ominous and dystopic cinematic strings — every element is competing for its own space — especially effective at creating a mood. And so bringing it from this point (to where it landed as a final iteration on Aminal Prisms), meant trying to expand on the heart of the track represented in this alternate take. I especially like the drum elements competing with the bass.
For about a week at a time, I had been bushwhacking through the Colorado wilderness alone, looking for a rare species of nearly extinct frog found at around 11,500 feet in elevation, just below the continental divide. When I returned home to warmth and clean sheets, I had frog sounds on the brain. The “beach ball” bouncing rhythm (and timbre of everything supporting the “frog call”) then reminded me of my childhood, playing Frogger on the larger arcade rigs.
Friends would ask: “What have you been up to…?”
aka “Prescient Crescent”
Almost once a month, I become a werewolf and howl at the moon.
This track is abrupt in some places, as you’ll surely notice, and the title is a Gonzo word, made to honor a personal hero of mine (in Hunter S. Thompson, RIP).
#5 Slow Motion
Short and sweet is something I came to appreciate after my 2013 album, Mantoac (which involves a different process of production, much more live work, and vamping ad nauseum). “Slow Motion” has a kind of RnB feel to it, because I had ideas about bringing a singer-friend into the mix, but nothing ever materialized. I like how the noise and bass become fused, and the staggered timing of the melodic elements keeps my ear interested.
#6 Green Watch
Green Watch was a menacing track, for me, during the months it circulated through my production hopper. I could never really find my way out of the parts that compete for the ear, here, that didn’t basically continue down the same road, and so I found this take a fair representative of a period when I was producing and eventually called it good. Sometimes a song is born and then dies, I guess.
A short sketch to scare your cat. (Not really.) That distorted, fedback opening sound is super obnoxious, though — and you’ve probably turned down the volume, as a result. If not (and you have a cat), kindly remove it from the ceiling. Everything else has a decent groove to it, I think. This one may have been the cause of tinnitus for me.
Made this as a segue between two longer songs, but I could never really find a place for it on Aminal Prisms. The whirling synth part represents the feeling of looking through a kaleidoscope for me, and I like how it competes for presence with the bass. Most of this project helped me identify the role of the bass-end of the spectrum in my own studio setup (at the time, an unfinished basement), and so I took the fact that almost all the tracks on this mixtape have blown-out bass issues as a cue to adjust my process. (That’s golden insight, right? Ha.)
#9 Don’t Kill the Messenger
Another short, sweet track. More a sketch than complete, well-formed idea. I still like the groove found in this one. I am not a fan of my own voice (as seems standard fare for most singers), but I have found I can include it in distorted or reverb-rich ways to fill out backgrounds and offer footing from which I can move forward with the sound.
#10 Mad On War
Martin Luther King, Jr. reached me at a young age, as part of the milieu of a 1980s education that included my introduction to Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” and Malcolm X. I was in sixth grade when I heard a recording of this speech, given at Riverside Church in New York (4Apr1967), called “Beyond Vietnam”. It includes the following excerpt:
“I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”
I made this track in an attempt to capture the spirit and mood of the sample, using the broken quote from MLK, Jr., and repetition, as a way to talk about how the problems he spoke about during the Vietnam War have not disappeared. I see them echoing through our society, to this day: “I watch… I watch… I watch… I watch…”. Society seems to roll in cycles.
#11 Radar Dub
Big fan of dub music, for its simplicity and groove. This is a live jam that was fun to make in the moment, though proved a bit too bass-heavy after the fact. There’s competition for presence between the bass and everything else. In this case, I created the drum stem and used that to drive everything else involved. Even though I am not stoked on the sound quality, I still find my head bobbing to what’s going on.
#12 Battle Traps
When I made this track (a live jam), I had a friend who was regularly producing freestyle rap battle videos, and so I began trying to wrap my head around what it might take to work that kind of live setting. Since it wasn’t part of my larger, long-term goals to make trap music, I lost interest.
#13 Translation House
This is another excerpt from a live track. I hope to complete a solid, uptempo club-worthy album that offers my take on Techno, House, Drum-N-Bass, etc., in the future. I’ve always enjoyed the simplicity and trance-like state that comes with four-on-the-floor.
When I was in high school, my friend Ryan (whose father was a well-respected surgeon) convinced our hot-headed Biology teacher that human blood was blue in color until it mixed with the air (then it turned red). The teacher actually bought that explanation, and that’s when I began to realize adults might not have their shit together.
#15 Beautiful Breezy Postergirl
This is a live track made in honor of the “Double-Mint Twins” — a 1980s (somewhat sexualized) marketing ploy used to sell chewing gum, involving identical twins IRL. This track was inspired by the feel of those commercials of my childhood, back when skipping commercials was impossible — even “muting” the channel was a chore. Jingles became a part of the construct that informed my understanding of music. Deviant ear worms, mostly.
#16 Moonlight Anthem
When I am a werewolf and the moon is full, I cannot sleep. Instead of quenching my thirst for blood, I turn to the gear and make the soundtrack of my mind’s eye. This track is about the feeling of being awake when everyone around me is sleeping.
In my journey to evolve as a producer and make music at a higher level, I have crossed paths with some interesting characters.
My idea is that trying out different styles of music and different settings might expand my understanding of how to put something interesting together.
One set of performers with whom I crossed paths were a duo of rappers. They were brothers, in real life. The older brother invited me over to his house for a jam session — “Bring your best tracks, and we’ll make shit happen,” he told me, “but we don’t do no ‘Crip Walk’.”
I had no idea what that meant, but figured I had misunderstood him. He had said “Crypt Walk”, right? I just assumed what he had said was some kind of cool phrase.
I had no idea what he meant until I showed up and everyone was wearing red-colored clothing.
Ohhhhhhhh… “Crip Walk.” (As in they were members of the “Bloods” (gang).) There were handguns. Weed was being grown (illegally) in the next room. One of the brothers had a private chauffeur who happened to be a police cadet (in training at that very moment).
For about an hour, I was concerned I wouldn’t be leaving with my gear; after a few blunts were passed along, I played some jams, and to my luck they liked what they heard and we made nice, talked about “next time”, and then I left with a quickness. Never felt the need to revisit that experience a second time.
A live jam / sketch aiming for some kind of cinematic moment — imagining the protagonist involved in something crazy or horrific — maybe the building explodes in the background as they walk away. It was these kinds of images that inspired moments found within this short track.
#19 Kook Out
Created with audio taken from a disappointing video in which a group of “adults” (at a public-park cookout) devolves into a chaotic fight between a few women. Their children witnessed the chaos, and so my heart goes out to those little darlings; it must be horrifying to witness one’s mother being brutalized. I used the screaming as a component, and finish the song with the reversed phrase: “You’re driving the kids crazy.”
Another sketchy segue meant to elicit the feeling of being inside a dark warehouse rave. Shadowy corners. Dangerous setting. Strangers peeking through the light. And a collective body bounce. Hearing this track makes me think of broken concrete and dust.
Short and sweet. Part of a longer jam. This snapshot was the only thing I could find that might fill in dead space at the end of the tape that would be a tease. After Mantoac, much of my production mind has been about trying to squeeze as much information into as little time as possible, in order to leave the listener wanting. I figure it’s better to do this than to draw out a track to the point that the listener would feel like they never need to hear it again. And so this philosophy did guide me throughout the process of building Aminal Prisms (e.g., “Hyperlance”). Brevity still serves as a useful concept in my productions.