BlogThe usual and unusual happenings involving me and my musical projects

The Deepest of Black Waters Track Deconstruction

neo | Nov, 30 2013 at 12:53 UTC | Track Deconstruction

Though it was not the point of origin for the album, The Deepest of Black Waters was Smear Campaign's first completed track. The name for the track came from an old demo I had of an Opeth-esque metal track, which was never going to be finished and was much less fitting for the title. 

Like it's successor, Ghost in the Machine, this track was inspired heavily by my discovery of PaulStretch, a utility created by Nasca Paul that essentially stretched audio to extreme lengths, without changing the pitch. I had this ability before, but Paul's utility allowed for realtime experimentation and a unique smearing ability.

The make up of this track is rather simple, consisting of only three parts, which I like to refer to as the drone, the ambiance and the melody. The drone was originally a percussive synth line that I created a few years back with the discovery of "Details" by Frou Frou. Blurring these percussive hits produced a rather peaceful drone reminiscent of crashing waves.

The ambiance and the melody were both created using tracks from a collection of guitar experiments I compiled while Ryan Boland and I were working to compose instrumental horror stories. We did succeed in creating one piece, a 9 minute journey set in a ghost town, but the parts used in The Deepest of Black Waters were not a part of that. They were outtakes.

Before anyone begins to think this piece was just three random bits stretched and thrown together, I should add that these source files took a lot of trial and error time to find. Beyond this the mixing, triming, effect layering and arranging processes were all quite involved. This piece is much more than just three audio files stacked atop one another, it is an intimate arrangement of sound design.

Eternal Servants to the Departed Track Deconstruction

neo | Nov, 29 2013 at 2:54 UTC | Track Deconstruction

We've reached the end of the album today with the track Eternal Servants to the Departed. Those who are familiar with my song Among Them, which was written for the short film Gun Barista, will recognize the title from the lyrics. The idea behind the line of course, was that to survive the main characters would need to forever serve the undead. Seems almost the same as being a zombie when thinking back on it. 

Much like Looks I Could Kill, this track began as a manipulated version of a fully arranged sound clip. A couple days into working the piece I ditched this original idea, as I felt the vocal portion was much less interesting than I would have hoped. The track was shelved for a couple months before I found the sounds which best suited the mood I wanted to capture.

I honestly cannot remember the original source for the main underscore to this piece, but I do know it originated from a part of the score for Relentless. If I had to make a guess, I would say it's most likely from the first waterfall scene. I do know that the original sounds were ethnic percussion instruments. The resulting layer continues to stick with me however, as one of the most hauntingly hypnotic drones I have ever created. I recall listening to just this layer alone a number of times, completely zoning out from the world surrounding me. This effect is best experienced with headphones.

Along with the main droning, there exist a couple of percussive layers. The first is a sparse arrangement from a portion of the Relentless score, originally created with sounds from Native Instrument's Tension Strike set. It repeats four times during the course of the track, each time using a different set of effects. Some are very subtle, but they are important to each repetition. Overall, the part is quite heavily manipulated.

The second percussive layer is somewhat buried but exists throughout a good portion of the second half. It's origin was a cue from If Looks Could Kill, which made heavy use of samples from Evolve Mutations, another Native Instrument collection. The semi-metallic sound was given in processing for Eternal Servants, it did not exist previously.

There are actually two melodic pieces in this track, though one may be seen more as ambiance. Both parts hail from a short electronic piano bit I composed a good number of years ago. For this piece, the first section was heavily delayed and reversed, resulting in very slow attack times. The second section was elongated and faded into the mix over just about the entire track duration. 

The last pieces of the puzzle, the vocal clips, came directly from the recording of Among Them. They were granulated in FL Studio to slow them down slightly and then mechanized by a ring modulator, conforming to the rule laid out during the Locust Star days, "it needs more ring mod." I will forever be in debt to Kelly for this lasting advice, which has proven true on so many occasions.

The final whisper was recorded specifically for this track, but still fits the project guidelines in that it's lyrical source was a previously recorded track. I chose to not use the original recording as the presentation was completely wrong for the desired impact. 

This track was the easiest to place on the album as it was the only one I thought could properly close the disc. I feel as though it fully encapsulates the collection's overall darkly melodic vibe. Definitely one of my personal favorites.

Looks I Could Kill Track Deconstruction

neo | Nov, 29 2013 at 2:48 UTC | Track Deconstruction

The sixth track from Smear Campaign was also the sixth in line to be finalized. The name comes courtesy of a demo reel James Phillips was putting together for a DVD pitch, which was entitled If Looks Could Kill. I'm not at liberty to divulge information about the DVD other than the fact it starred Debra Ades (who also appears as Ashley in Relentless) and it was seemingly paranormal. I do not know the entire story, so it's actually a projection regarding the paranormal aspect. 

In discussions of If Looks Could Kill, James and I would often abbreviate it to ILCK, which I would always want to type as LICK. Out of this small quirk came the idea for a piece entitled Looks I Could Kill.

The track which shows up on the album was not the original arrangement. The piece began similar to Through A Corrupted Mind in that it's basis was a completely assembled clip. The piece used was from a clip of ILCK, which come out okay but far from worthy of the album. Oddly enough, the final album track only includes a single item from the ILCK score, a rather eerie drone.

The main melodic loop hails from the electronic track A Shaded View, which was initially created for a fashion video by Nigel HoSang. In the original track this part plays a more supportive role than the forefront placement it is given in Looks I Could Kill. 

There is a second clip from A Shaded View which is used to enhance the bell tone layer. It is a fairly gritty and gated synth patch which ultimately goes hand-in-hand with the melody. I purposely adjusted these two layers out of sync, to create certain moments of tension as the chords progressed.

The corrosive portion which basically takes over the entire track in the end was created using the guitar setup seen on my home page. For this setup I placed small wooden beads onto each of my strings and used some magnetix to drive the strings and pickups. The majority of motion was from repelling pieces attached to the strings with a magnet in hand. The final sound clip used for this piece was actually the same loop used in the beginning of the original Relentless teaser trailer.

This track was one of the most fun to create and is also the one which is easiest for me to lose myself in. The droning melody is so hypnotic, easing me into a lull. It is a fantastic retreat from the haunting darkness, or at least it would appear as such.

With Tortured Affection Track Deconstruction

neo | Nov, 29 2013 at 2:45 UTC | Track Deconstruction

Smear Campaign's fifth track, With Tortured Affection, was created exclusively from pieces of the track Nowhere Safe. The title was one of my entries into the Name My Horror Film contest. This title seemed quite suiting for the track in that it was created from a part of the film's score.

There are a couple of elements making up the barren soundscape at the root of this piece. The first is the acoustic percussion section, which was elongated to build the lower, more distant portion of the desolate wind layer. The second was the glitch industrial drum portion appearing in the first half of Nowhere Safe. This part was manipulated in a similar way to create the higher wind sounds. The idea was to give a true feeling of emptiness.

The melodic content comes courtesy of a very harmonically rich bowed glass segment. The instrument was not capable of producing a strong defining root, which resulted in a very dissonant and unsettling drone. This melodic layer is brought in and out of the foreground, again to try and portray an image of desolation. 

The harsh buildup is a heavily manipulated layer, which consists of a good amount of distortion from Kombinat and a very high reverb send level. The basis comes from a small atmospheric clip buried in the mix of Nowhere Safe. This just proves that you should never leave a stone unturned when designing sound, you could very well miss the gold.

The melodic ending is pretty much a verbatim copy of the bell-like ending to Nowhere Safe, only on a much longer scale. I felt a bit of beauty was needed to complete the portrayal. 

The overall process was quite similar to creating The Deepest of Black Waters, which I tend to think of as the older sibling to With Tortured Affection.

I suppose that With Tortured Affection could be seen as a longing. That being without a person makes the world feel cold and bleak, like being alone in a barren land surrounded only by dirt and skeleton trees, the only sound being that of the frozen wind. The more serene ending is somewhat like coming home.

Through a Corrupted Mind Track Deconstruction

neo | Nov, 29 2013 at 2:39 UTC | Track Deconstruction

At this point in the album, we move from the most complex track to the least complex track. Through a Corrupted Mind, in title, is a homage to the character Vincent from the upcoming horror film Relentless. It is not just in title, however, that the track relates to this film.

The main sequence of Through a Corrupted Mind was actually the original idea for the opening piece of Relentless. Upon extending the opening I came up with a second theme, which I felt better suited the opening, leaving the original as an orphaned sound clip. Given my obsession with sound manipulation, I began experimenting with this clip. The basis of the track ended up basically being a version of the track played at a quarter of the speed.

On top of the melodic base, a noisy soundscape is superimposed. This harsh buildup was created from the atmospheric ending of the Relentless credit piece, Nowhere Safe. It's a heavily manipulated and stretched version, a process which helped to tame the abrasive tone of the original source.

Aside from these two layers, there is a semi-percussive layer which appears near the ending. This layer is created from three copies of a percussive section of a film cue run through Audio Damage's glitch plugin, Replicant. The layers have varied reverb and misc effect settings to give the sum a bit of depth. The three parts were trimmed and arranged as necessary, but were mostly dictated through the random nature of Replicant.

As I stated in the beginning, this was indeed the least complex manipulation on the album, though the effort which originally went into writing the base melodic layer was fairly high. This track just happened to benefit from an outtake of the soundtrack. It just goes to show how important a track's tempo can be, as the Smear Campaign version, in my opinion, is far superior to the original.