Tim's music was the first thing that got me thinking about constraints and how to use them to your advantage; his music for the beeper was often 4 to 5 voices with drums and I am still amazed at how that is even possible. For perspective, here is a picture (left) of the waveform from YamaYama's version of Follin's "Future Games" next to the beeper version. Notice the uniformity of the shapes on the original ZX version and how dynamic of a wave form our recording has.
With the constraint of only being able to use 1-bit data entry to make his music, he was still able to make some crazy prog-rock heavy metal insanity. I really really wanted to cover some of the tunes of the ZX Spectrum, including some of his, and so I foolishly thought: what constraints could I put on myself to try and emulate the constraints that these composers had?
HELLO RAINBOW Begins
I based a lot of this project on the idea of February Album Writing Month (FAWM), which is where each participant composes, records, produces, and releases 14 songs in 28 days. So the original idea was to follow that model and start transcribing and arranging 14 tunes for a three piece band in February, record them all over a couple days, produce them, and release them. Sound impossible? It was. This idea was expanded so that normal humans could actually accomplish this task. We ended up with these constraints:
- 3 people on stripped down instruments (except saxophone) to hold us back, emulating the restraints that the ZX had; a 4-string bass tuned to Eb with a fuzz pedal, and a three piece drum kit
- Arranging everything starting on January 18th to be ready by February 12th and 26th (for each session)
- Rehearsing and recording all 14 tunes in 2 days (except for "Antiriad")
- Have someone not in the group to have total artistic license in the mixing process
The first constraint was a necessity: our keyboardist was out of the country for all of February and so we only had three people instead of four. The stripping down of the accessories we had (one pedal, three-piece drums with one cymbal and hi-hats) was a hat tip to Deerhoof's Gary Saunier and his hilariously small set up, which he consistently destroys. I also tuned down my bass a half-step to accommodate all of my open strings to the saxophone's more easy keys.
The arrangements was another interesting constraint. Having so little time to get into the music and arrange it led me to really trust the people much more than the music I wrote down, leaving the charts pretty sparse and assuming they would handle it. I am a bit of a control freak with charts (at least I think so), so this was a good trust exercise for me, and the results were beautiful performances all around. I pretty much always put in slashes for the drums so Merlin is pretty much improvising everything the whole time, too.
So rehearsing and recording these tracks in two days was NUTS. The energy was at a peak for each session and I can feel it in most of the recordings, which is awesome, but the thing about making us do SO MUCH in such a ridiculously short period of time was that it put everything we did into an extreme sense of flow; like there was no time for debate, we just made decisions and did it. Some stuff in the music didn't work, so a suggestion was made. Knowing that time was on the line, we changed it, recorded it, then moved on. Things we wouldn't often do in our other recording sessions were done without hesitation and we owned it out of the constraint of time. The charts which were already often based on quick often thoughtless decisions were further changed without a deep pondering, and I feel it leaves the charts feeling really fresh. I'll post up some charts and show you some examples.
After these sessions, we handed them to our friend Mason Kline to mix. I wanted us to have as little involvement in the mixing process as possible so that Mason had as much freedom to do whatever he wanted. We like Mason because he goes the crazy route without warning and often (you'll hear it in a minute).