For those in the Twittersphere who lurk among the tiny independent labels, cassette dealers and solo artists making forward-thinking ambient music, Whettman Chelmets is a reassuring presence. – Echoes and Dust
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 Joplin, MO based Whettman Chelmets whose latest release is For… – available as both digital and a limited edition tape.
When I set out to record For…, there wasn’t really any kind of overarching theme or perspective on the whole thing. I’m fond of this notion, presenting themes and ideas throughout a release in which the whole plays off the individual parts more so than a collection of songs.
I rarely go into something with a total framework in mind, but this was the first time I finished an album, sequenced the tracks and got everything ready for mastering, and I had no clue what it was really about. I’d listen back over and over again, and kinda got struck by how much certain sounds and field recordings and things were taking me to certain places I had been in the last year, specifically, the year coronavirus took hold of the world.
I didn’t set out to to a covid album; it seems such a cliche thing to do. In some ways, this is a historical time that will stick with our generation, my son’s generation, my mother’s generation — it will stick with all of us forever, I believe. We need documents and artifacts of this time, but then again, do any of us really want to be reminded of that time again? It’s a hard balance, but my mind kept going to these times, and that got me thinking about time in general.
Time is a paradox — not in it’s actual existence but in our perception of it. Human beings perceive things in such binary ways that ultimately hinder our perception of the thing-in-itself. Time is like this too. It is linear. It moves constantly. The things that happen today are not the things that will happen tomorrow. But the opposite is true as well. Time is cyclical. Seasons change. The sun comes up every morning. This year will repeat again; but at the same time, this year will change everything and will be nothing like the last.
So here, we have more of an exploration of that. It’s a cyclical album. A faint, high pitched sound is there at the beginning, and it returns again at the end (may have stole this from Frank Ocean and Channel: Orange). It’s themes are built on the cycle of things, while the cycle contains such particularity that make each instance wholly unique.
The river you stepped in yesterday and today is both the same river and not the same river. It is both, and it is neither.
I wanted this song to form as a prelude and an epilogue at the same time. A remembrance of a time when things were “normal”. It’s an album of nostalgia in a lot of ways, and a lot of the sounds draw from this. My only criteria for this release was I wanted to concentrate on playing acoustic/classical guitar. I spent years just sitting there watching my son grow up playing along to melodies of his favorite kid’s songs before I returned back to an electric guitar and a pedal board and a big huge S O U N D, and I wanted to come to something quieter, something slower here. This track serves as a background for that, with lots of strings, drones, and hitting a shower curtain. Sounds needed to be grounded out of the usual software and vst world too.
Here, we have a gathering of loved ones. Thanksgiving. A time of togetherness, and it’s a rather soft song, I believe. Not everyone cares about how tracks are made, but this is put together by me playing single notes in like G major on an acoustic guitar, drawing volume envelopes post-mix, and feeding these volume swells into different size loopers for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours at at time. It just builds this wonderful fuzz throughout with each pass.
A track to foreshadow darkness, though the listener may not really be aware of what lay ahead. The most droney track on the album with very small, subtle changes and the occasional ice breaking and bird sound.
New Year’s Day is the most exciting of times. The entire future lay ahead, even though it’s really no different than the day before. There’s an optimism throughout the track with this hint of menace and noise underlying the whole thing. In jazz terms, it’s just a ii-V-I progression modulated by a 4th and repeated back to the tonic. One take guitar embellishment that I’m proud of because it takes a huge will of effort for me to solo in different keys.
Now, we start to get more overt hints that things may be somewhat off this year. I was going for a more Lindsey Buckingham style fingerpicking flourish, but I think it comes off more like early Leonard Cohen work, which is probably much more menacing as it is.
We often become blindly optimistic when we see what may come about. Often, what comes about doesn’t, and we are justified in our cup-half-full mentality. No sense in worrying about what isn’t there yet, as it is. But do we prepare for the fall this way? Not sure. This is generally my approach, and it’s let me down. An optimistic take before cold reality sets in. All in DADGAD tuning.
This came about from a more concrete exercise of putting together a track in a really weird time signature based on field recordings of using a stick to play a park bench with my daughter when she had just turned 2 years old. I created this simple arpeggio that’s not quite in 4/4 and just built on the kinda post-rock structure already there, but with different sounds. But it builds in that way tracks like that do, the way post-rock tracks build to break you down.
Another one take acoustic recording, hitting notes more in a counterpoint kind of way. Came off sounding really sad. I hadn’t recorded with a lot of condenser mics yet, and I was totally dismayed that I could hear my allergic sniffling throughout the recording. Couldn’t get rid of it, so decided to make it part of the track. Low’s Double Negative probably influenced this track the most, in terms of really pushing compressors to bring EVERYTHING front and center in different ways.
Often, years bring about this relentless thing, especially this last year where nothing felt like it was going to end. So here we have this idea of cycles and repetitions and things really in the forefront of sounds just looping off sync and falling into themselves. Something kinda Phillip Glass about this one.
I think my favorite track on the album. Really centered around a field recording I made on Father’s Day, playing in the backyard with my kids and my 2 dogs. It was a serene day. It was a good day. I wanted to make note of that as good days are things to be noted. This one comes off to me as this weird combo of Bing & Ruth and Steve Reich. But I think it’s a gorgeous way to finish the album, I think.