Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Matt Robidoux, San Franscisco based composer/improviser, whose latest album “At Dust” is out now on Already Dead Tapes & Records.
This was the first track that felt like a new start to the album process. I was trying different configurations of beats, finding different ways to integrate movement into my composition practice, in my apartment indefinitely during the first lockdown. I don’t know what came first, the dancing or the beat? I wanted to find something that was consistently buoyant and also had a lot of space. The lyrics are inspired by by Jacques Prevert. Matt Norman’s rhodes and brass really send it into new territory. When he first sent the track of his parts I had to pull over and listen to it multiple times. I had a kind of “I’m Blue” by Eiffel 65 or Teletubbies green screen type of thing in mind for the video, an alternate soft world abundant with colors. Musician and video artist Peter Nichols made a beautiful realization of this.
I had a back and forth correspondence with my friend Betsy in Philly, and kept meaning to send her “My Mother Laughs”, a book by Chantal Ackerman. I finally did, but first I sent this song instead. It was made using a similar dancing in the apartment process, probably recorded in the same week, with the beats and wavetable synth responding to random values. A lot of lyrics and vibe were a stream of consciousness. It references the title of that book directly. I also took notes from books I was reading at the time, Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto and I Love Dick by Chris Kraus.
I had to go back to Massachusetts from San Francisco suddenly in March 2021 to visit and help care for my ailing grandmother. I visited a bandstand in the next town over, and had forgotten the striking painting of clouds in its backdrop, painted by my elementary school art teacher – something like Andy’s room in Toy Story. I filmed a dance there, the day I got my 2nd vaccine shot so I threw up afterwards. I also filmed close up action shots of the clouds that I used in a later video. While watching that footage, I recorded this piece on a small eurorack setup using a Red Panel Buchla 158 and a Mutable Instruments Clouds. I recorded a few walks on the hill behind my grandmother’s house, crunching the snow, the geese in their formation close by.
Near the end of the album process I started working the record as one composition. I dipped into a 5 year pool of field recordings and bridge Cloud Dance #7 and OB Birds with a songbird from Purisma Creek, a mystical place south of here. This track jumps off where another Jacques Prevert poem leaves off, “Pour faire le portrait d’un oiseau (To Paint a Bird’s Portrait)” and starts with sub bass and a flute solo by Mitch Stahlmann, recorded at the Mills College CCM. I was thinking about the band Relatively Clean Rivers, who I listened to a lot while living in Western Massachusetts. They soundtracked my California dreamin’ at the time. I wanted the song to have stark contrast within it, illustrated by the 808 styled kicks and high flute frequencies, gradually meshing into an additive nest.
A bass and vocal improvisation. I just started playing the bass line and singing ee-ya as a calibration exercise and it stuck. I sent it to Kris Force who made it burst at the seams with lush string orchestration. It was also the first time I discovered the revelatory pitch wheel on the mellotron at the Vintage Synth Museum, where many of the synth sounds on this record were tracked. The video idea came in August 2021 when I arrived at ACRE residency in Steuben, WI and saw the vast cornfields. The birth of the corn.
A few years ago I recorded the masts of boats out at Fort Mason in San Francisco on a foggy, windy day and it sounded like a garden of chimes. I used these sounds once before in a piece for John Bischoff’s seminar in electronic music while I was still a student at Mills College. A couple of years later, I opened it back up just to listen to it, and I heard the melody. I had recently purchased a clarinet from Craigslist and retrieved it from San Jose on a particularly smoky day with the wildfires. I recorded the melody on this instrument.
This beat was the first thing I ever made in Ableton, sitting on my friend’s porch in LA and listening through the built-in speakers. Later that summer I was visiting family on the east coast and my mom had got a small steel pan drum that I sampled with the built-in mic. The track underwent a lot of changes since then but retains this original spirit I think. For my release show I’m experimenting with it using autotune and arranging it for woodwind/percussion quintet.
This is an “intro to eurorack” style track as I was beginning to figure out what an LFO does and apply it to some polyrhythmic patterns. In my early 20’s I walked from Ireland to Portugal, around 1,500km. A group of my classmates and I slept in a catering tent every night with a green stripe and one big pole in the center. This was the image I had in mind for the song. Some of the percussion was recorded on my phone in a parking garage in Oakland.
I wrote a score and sent it to bassoonist Cody Putman. When Cody sent his tracks back I scrapped and re-recorded everything around it, then added percussion overdubs by Tony Gennaro and vocals by Ky Brooks. The intro passage is mostly voice and mellotron with the hopes of giving it a quality of being suspended in air. It’s an additive style track, and by the end there’s quite a lot going on, anchored by a saunter between Tony’s percussion and my simple drum kit playing. There are some additional overdubs in there, like an island of seagulls in Santa Barbara at night.
This is one of two drone based pieces on the record, formed by a Gleeman pentaphonic at the Vintage Synth Museum. I loved the depth of the LFO texture – how simultaneously calming and unwieldy it is, and thought this added another element of counterpoint to the record. I wasn’t sure what to add to it until a camping trip to Limekiln, Big Sur, where I took many field recordings. The one I used is of rocks at a rugged beach beach, undulating in and out like a snare roll. The melody got pulled out of the rocks, which I played on a Korg MS-20. I also experimented on this track with having a vast array of instrumentation for very short durations, sometimes two notes, then out!
This song started as a mellotron drone at the Vintage Synth Museum. We changed the tape cartridge from flute/cello to oboe/choral and I messed around on the pitch wheel (like in “ee-ya” but with a completely different timbre). The rhythmic element that kicks off the track was created on a Steiner-Parker Synthacon and some textural flourishes on a Buchla easel. I later added some of my home built noise boxes, a bassline, Prince-like Linndrum blasts and a vocoder voice. I added a big guitar solo as a counterpoint to the rest of the record. it was recorded on a Saturday morning! Tim Russell tracked the drums in Madison, WI and when we met up this summer we drove through the countryside bumping the mastered version.